Should you stay or should you go?
“You gotta know when to hold ’em,
know when to fold ’em,
know when to walk away,
know when to run.”
– Kenny Rogers, The Gambler
We recently received a comment and question from the leader of a Detroit Prepping group asking if we could do a video on knowing when to bug out and what you should be taking with you. We receive similar questions like this in the comment sections of my videos. Even though our plans and instincts may be to dig in our heels at our home base and hold our ground, that isn’t always a possibility. The people who survived the recent wildfires fires that destroyed entire subdivisions in Colorado mere minutes were the people that wisely got out, abandoned their homes and belongings, and fled to safety. When the building you are in collapses, you don’t want to be in it. So too, you may find yourself in a situation where you are forced to abandon your neatly stored preps and flee to a safer environment. This blog will examine when that time is, when you should dig in and hunker down, and when you should grab what you can and get to a safer environment. Though I have other videos on the essentials of what you should be grabbing and taking with you, we will cover it again at the end of this blog, so you can give yourself the best chance of getting to safety and surviving. First, should you stay or should you go?
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WHERE ARE YOU WHEN DISASTER STRIKES?
The only safe place to survive in place through most disasters is probably an underground bunker. Of the estimated one percent of people in America prepping today, there’s perhaps less than one percent of those preppers in a position to have an underground bunker. Let’s face it, that’s not a likelihood for most. Our homes, though, are our castles, as they say. We fortify the walls and security. We store and conceal our preps. We dim the lights, quiet our noise, and keep the curtains and blinds drawn. Many preppers stop there, reasoning that their windows and doors are the locations of their final stand against whatever the world throws at them, and it is the place of their last stand for them because they have no plan to escape when they need to.
The reality is that there are genuine circumstances where your neatly stored up 6-month’ worth of preps will be utterly useless to you because staying where you are isn’t feasible. Ask anyone who lived in one of the Santa Rosa neighborhoods wiped out by wildfires in 2017. Ask anyone who lived in one of the 1,000 homes wiped out in mere minutes by the fire in Boulder County, Colorado. Those people all felt comfortable and safe in their homes. Some of them may have even been preppers. That didn’t matter, however. They would have perished in the same fires that destroyed everything they called home if they had stayed. If you live in an apartment building, condos, even the suburbs, you can have all your preps in place, but it won’t matter if your neighbor’s garage catches fire and high winds are fanning the flames in your direction.
Even animals instinctually know when to hunker down in their lairs and when to run. Even a herd of rabbits knows to build more than one means of egress from its warren. So too, you have to factor in the possibility that your home base won’t be a safe option for you. Much will depend on where you are at when the disaster strikes. The rest will depend on how bad the disaster is and whether it threatens your continued safety to stay in or get home. If you would have to pass through the epicenter of a disaster to get to your home after a disaster, you might be better off abandoning your plans to get home and looking for alternative solutions. An earthquake could make roads and bridges impassable. A flood could render vehicles and land transportation useless. If you have an EDC or Everyday Carry bag, your decision process concerning making your way home to your preps or sticking it out where you are becomes infinitely more manageable. If you find yourself on foot and ten or more miles from home when disaster strikes, you may have no choice but to find shelter where you are or find shelter and safety even further away from home. Think of how many disaster movies are built entirely around the premise of the protagonist either fleeing from or trying to make it back home. It’s a genuine conflict. If it can carry a Hollywood plotline, it is probably also a premise you should consider in your disaster plans.
There are four instances when you should always evacuate and never try to stay put: floods, wildfires, hurricanes, and hazardous chemical or radiological spills. An approaching hurricane will give you days of warnings and enough time to gather what you need and make tracks. A wildfire or HAZMAT situation may give you only a few seconds warning or no warning at all. Often, floods occur after you are already trying to bug in, so you may have to get to your roof as your only option to survive if the waters rise high enough. If any of these four disasters strikes, get out. Don’t stay behind. Statistically, your odds of survival are low if you try to stick it out and stay. Call these your force majeure situations– unforeseeable circumstances that are a greater force than you and your preps.
The second factor after where you are when the disaster strikes is the magnitude of the disaster. If the disaster is civil unrest, you may be safe from marauding looters and government forces deployed to contain the conflict. Still, you might not be safe from a series of building fires blowing flames and choking billows of smoke in your direction. We was once in a city where conflict zones were just a block or two away, but the street we were on was completely quiet and carrying on business as usual. Also, there are some cities where you know certain streets you just don’t go down. Understand the range of the disaster and determine the safest route or whether you should abandon hope of trying to make it home. If the disaster is so bad that all emergency services and relief efforts are entirely shut off indefinitely, leaving wherever you are may not be possible. Hopefully, you are at home and can safely lockdown with your preps. While it is a myth that lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice, disasters tend to burn through their fuel and tend not to reappear in the same places again and again. There are always exceptions to this, but a once-in-a-lifetime tornado through a community likely will not be followed the next day with another tornado along the exact same path. Looters who clear out all the grocery stores in one neighborhood aren’t likely to revisit those same empty stores. Earthquakes can have foreshocks, but the likelihood of an even bigger quake after a historically big quake is small.
Consider how massive and widescale a disaster’s destruction is. Where are you and your loved ones in proximity to the disaster, and how wide-reaching is the disaster? Can you get home? Can you stay at home? Has the initial impact of the disaster passed, and you are now more threatened by the aftermath of the disaster?
HAVE A PLAN
Have a plan for yourself to bug in or bug out. Have a plan with your loved ones that has both a rendevous point and a plan to get home from any of the cardinal directions around you. Discuss the “what ifs” around the most likely disasters you may face. Make it a point to know more than one route to any destination and to have more than one means of conveyance. If you rely solely on traveling down the highway in your car, what will you do when the weather or a downed bridge prevents you from traveling that route. Thousands were recently forced to overnight on a freeway in Virginia after a winter storm forced its closure. Fortunately, there have been no reports of deaths or injuries, just a major inconvenience for those stranded. They got lucky. I’m sure many that went through that ordeal now realize the value of having the proper gear in their vehicle and hopefully plan to deal with a situation like that should they face it again.
Having a plan in place is so critical. Make sure you have either a great street-by-street knowledge of your area or a decent map in your EDC bag. Make sure you know more than one route. It doesn’t take an extreme disaster to bring down or overwhelm cellular services, so you won’t be able to rely upon the voice in your phone to tell you when to make a left turn.
Establish a bug-out location and rendezvous points opposite each other– North and South or East and West of your home. You may have to take a circuitous route to get there, but if your spouse is working nearer one of the established points when a disaster strikes that will prevent them from getting home, you will know where they are likely heading. They will know where you are likely heading. Get familiar with the area that will be your rendezvous point. It should be far from crowds, isolated, and often overlooked. Establish one spot there where you could leave a note for the other. Your rendevous point may become unsafe, as well. Know under what conditions you will abandon it and where you would go next. It is best to plan for several predetermined locations to cover a variety of disaster scenarios. Based upon where the disaster strikes and where you are when it does, you will be able to deduce the best, most logical spot for you to go.
We always recommend that people have a friend or family member randomly text them as a sort of agreed-upon game. Tell them, “Okay, if disaster X happened right now at Y location, what would be your plan?” The random time of the text simulates the true randomness of a disaster. The exercise of thinking out your personal plan at that moment has three purposes. First, it trains your brain to develop a plan to face the challenges you actually might face one day. It trains your brain to be the calm solution-oriented doer instead of the frantic and erratic panicker. Second, it serves to inform you of the resources around you and the resources you might consider you still need. If you work on the outskirts of town and through the woods when a massive storm hits, throwing a foldable saw in your trunk might mean the difference between being trapped and getting home.
If you don’t have an extra pair of walking shoes in the trunk of your car or your EDC bag, how far will you get in dress shoes, sandals, or heels? Even when we dress warmly in the winter, we really only dress warm enough to get from the warmth of point A to the warmth of point B. We rarely dress to endure the freezing cold for hour upon hour. The reality is that you cannot prepare for all circumstances; however, if you plan and prepare for a few, you will find that you are covered well for most events.
The final thing this exercise does is to lead you to a larger plan and larger conversation that instills confidence and calm in you and your people. Assessing and discussing the “what ifs” and scenarios with those in your group provide you with a holistic view of your prepping. It sharpens your focus and keeps you from prepping on a tangent for unlikely scenarios. The collective brainstorming activity challenges you with multiple scenarios and conditions. It is a process of pre-discovery that allows you to remain calmer in the crisis and pivot when necessary. It brings all your people onto similar pages and helps you understand how others might react. That can help you to know where they might go and what they might do if a disaster strikes that has you separated from them.
Have a plan. Have a map. Pack some basics in your vehicle and an EDC bag you can stash in your car. Know your options, so you don’t run out of them altogether. You’re not crazy for thinking disasters might strike at any time. They do. You would be crazy to know that fact and still not develop a plan.
Your home is always the default first choice of where you should ride out any disaster. Conditions might keep you from getting home or may force you to flee your home, but in most scenarios, your home is going to be the safest shelter for you through a disaster. As such, make sure you have the basics to last the duration. Have enough stored food and water if you’re starting out being prepared to last you a minimum of 3-weeks, ideally 3-months, or even longer. You don’t want to know the municipal water supply isn’t flowing during a disaster. You might not hear the boil order that was issued if lines of communication are down. You don’t want to open your refrigerator during a disaster only to discover that you’ve developed a lifestyle of living off takeout. What will you do then? Make ketchup packet soup?
Bugging-in gives you a real home-field advantage if you plan ahead. You know where your preps are. You know how to prepare them. You know how to ration and reduce your consumption. You know how to repurpose things like maybe draining the 60 gallons of water from your water heater that stopped working. You know all the entry points, so you already know where to watch for security breaches. You know how to defend yourself in your own home and even where to hide if necessary.
Bugging in gives you the advantage of knowing the neighbors to trust and help and the ones to watch out for and avoid. You know the area around your home, so you know the resources in your area as well. Think of bugging-in as, indeed, a home-field advantage. Still, don’t make it your only option. As I have said, you still may reach a point where you need to abandon your location. If you are frail, disabled, or elderly, you should still have a plan, even if it would take tremendous effort to carry through with it. Also, knowing that you may have to leave your home, have a bug-out bag ready for each of your family members. I have a friend who even has a pack for his German Shepard, so he won’t have to carry 20 pounds of food for her if he has to bug out.
We will link to some of our other blogs on bugging-out, choosing a location, and building a bug-out bag. Still, we think it is also essential to cover a few essentials that you absolutely cannot afford to overlook. First, have copies of crucial documents in a zip-lock baggy. If the world is in utter chaos, it won’t matter, but if there is any structure or order at all, you may need these documents to prove your identity, re-establish yourself, access services, or find out information about your relations. Don’t throw out that expired license or passport, as the expiration date won’t matter if you are merely trying to establish your identity. If it does get stolen from you, the expired date will keep criminals from using it. Second, have a basic map and a good compass. You may know your town like the back of your hand, but a disaster of significant scope can lay waste to the landscape and make landmarks challenging to find and discern. As I have said in other videos, pass on maps of your country, state, or province in favor of more detailed maps of an area ranging a circumference of little more than a hundred miles around you. The fact is that after a major disaster, your world and your ability to navigate it will shrink. You may only be able to travel a mile per day, not the usual 20, 40, or 80 miles you typically commute daily.
Have the means to start a fire. Have the means to filter water. Have some basic foods that include a protein drink and an electrolyte drink. Have some snack bars or jerky in the bag, and maybe even some hard candies. Make it something that will keep for a long time and provide you with calories. It won’t be the perfect diet, but it will be enough to get you through and keep you thinking clearly. Have a tarp, pocket knife, and paracord in your pack. These items will have great utility for you if you find yourself stuck out in the elements. A simple shelter can keep you from dying of exposure. I would encourage you to take this even a step further and purchase a solo tent. It is small enough to fit in your car or your bugout backpack easily, and it will be a lifesaver if you ever find yourself in the elements and trying to survive. Having a hooded windbreaker, emergency poncho, a pair of socks, and those old sneakers you replaced may mean the difference between getting where you need to go or forcing you to stay put in a dangerous place. Have a ziplock baggy with basic hygiene products, insect repellant, sunscreen, a small hotel bar of soap, and basic medicines. Have a small first-aid or trauma kit. These can be made very small but are true lifesavers in an emergency.
Beyond the bag, though, you need a plan, a destination, and the ability to pivot to a plan B if your first choice is no longer viable. It would be great if our best-case scenario, our first choice plan, is implemented without a hitch, but that rarely happens. Bugging-out is done in a hurry but doesn’t have to occur without any forethought. The masses will desperately grab what they can and run screaming. They have no plan. You can be calmly and methodically moving to safety with a solid bug-out plan. A predetermined, well-stocked destination is ideal, but not all of us have the funds for a cabin in the woods. Realize that if you thought of getting to the old quarry, caves, or remote public campsite, so did a hundred or thousand other people. When we hike, we note clearings and overhangs and make those my landmarks. If we ever need to bug out, we can make that clearing my destination or use that overhang for an emergency shelter. The same thing can be accomplished in an urban environment. Take note of places you might seek shelter, alternate pathways, shortcuts you can take on foot. Know where resources are in the wild or in an urban environment if you find you have to scavenge or forage. Look at your world from a need to survive perspective and develop a plan in your head. If the need to survive comes, you will know right what you need to do.
QUESTIONS, TIMING & EXPERIENCE
From the time before a disaster through the aftermath of a disaster, and all along the way, you have to evaluate your decision to stay or go constantly. The high point of a disaster isn’t always in the moment that it strikes. The zenith may be long after the initial disaster and far from the original epicenter. A truck or rail car containing chemicals might have an initial disaster radius of a few hundred feet, but the chemical cloud coming your direction might stretch for miles and miles, many hours later. Sometimes you won’t have the option to bug out because that time will pass for you. If you weren’t ahead of the herd and decided earlier to stay behind, the opportunity for you to leave might have passed. Perhaps roads and bridges are impassable, or highways are stalled with others fleeing. Once you decide to stay, you might lose the ability to change your mind later. Still, there are situations where the environment will necessitate your choice, regardless of how bad and dangerous the decision to leave has become.
Stay in the now. Even an old transistor radio and a set of binoculars might be enough to inform your decisions. News broadcasts can inform your choices. WiFi and BlueTooth communication may still be available to you. Walkie Talkies or CBs can stretch your eyes and ears on the world around you. Even an inexpensive drone can give you a high-altitude surveillance of the threats you will face along your bug out route. Understanding what you face outside your home will help you make the correct decision about whether to stay or leave. There are decisions of timing all along the way, and you need to stay as informed as you can be and constantly evaluate your security and ability to stay put. When it comes to that decision, weigh your options carefully. Many people have a fantasy perception of living in the wild. It is not easy. Even surviving a few days with decent resources and equipment will be a struggle for most people. Surviving a week or more out there without assistance will require some advanced survival skills. If you have never overnight camped or been out on a long hunting or fishing trip before, you aren’t likely to make it in the wild for a long time.
Your best prep for bugging out is your experience and your fitness. Sure, watch your favorite team play on Sunday, but go for a long walk or hike on Saturday. Make a plan and pass on sitting on the couch for the opportunity to pitch a tent, have a campfire, and do an overnight at a campsite. Don’t put off your fitness goals. Even if your survival skills are lacking in some areas, having the ability to adapt a base understanding and having the fitness level to carry through an improvisational plan might be enough to keep you alive and moving. You don’t have to be Daniel Boone or Grizzly Adams, but you have to have a core competency and a basic fitness level.
Finally, any decision to stay or go will have a few common considerations. First, how safe are you? Is the environment around you getting worse, and has the opportunity to leave passed? Is it so bad that regardless of the chaos out there, staying will result in your demise? Second, can you get to another destination? Sometimes you have no choice but to try. Finally, what is the status of your resources? If your water stores are wiped out, you might have no option but to leave. You can’t survive without water. If your food is stolen at gunpoint from you, you might have no choice but to get out with your life and try to find new sources of food.
Whether you bug out or bug in, it all comes down to constantly evaluating and questioning the threats you face, making timely decisions, and acting upon your knowledge and your experience. There are no easy answers. No equipment or prep will guarantee you make the right decisions and survive whatever calamity you face. After all, they wouldn’t be disasters if they weren’t challenging. They would be inconveniences. Still, knowing what you should be evaluating, having and discussing emergency plans, and having a bag you can grab and go will help you if you need to hunker down, and they’ll definitely help you if you are forced to abandon your home and stored preps.
What do you think? Have you ever been forced to lock down in your home or forced to flee? What do you wish you knew or wish you had then? Let us know in the comments below. We read many of the comments and respond to them when we can, typically within the first hour of releasing a blog. The only way to be notified when we release new blog is to subscribe to this channel. Please click that like button to help support the channel, and as always, stay safe out there.
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Foldable Saw: https://amzn.to/334Rg5M