Baby Step #4: Get home, no matter what

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Like ships that pass in the night, my husband and I sometimes barely have time for conversation.  Today we finally had a short discussion on a topic that was concerning me: what should we do if there is some type of emergency that prevents him from being able to get home?  I don’t expect major tornadoes or a devastating earthquake, but civil unrest in the central part of our city, in particular, is easier to imagine, along with major flooding.

The decision we made is that I will assume that he is on his way home and that he will get home, no matter what.  With his Alice Pack in the truck and a firearm close at hand, he’d be pretty well equipped to hike home.  Likewise, if the kids and I are away from home, he can assume that we will get home, again, no matter what.  I feel better knowing that we’ve talked about this one detail.

Unless it’s a catastrophic event, say a nuclear detonation above our city, our home will be our meeting place and we will assume that each person is on their way, even if they have to walk the entire way, and even if it takes hours or days.

If a family or individual is unprepared, getting home may be easier said than done.  A small, well-packed Get-Home backpack in your car, one per person, would be a smart addition and could make getting home a reality.  Here’s a checklist of items to keep in your vehicle should you find yourself having to hoof it home.

  • comfortable pair of shoes stashed under the car seat, one pair per person (You will SO thank me for this tip one day. Count on it.)
  • an extra pair of socks per person (could double as strange looking mittens in cold weather)
  • a small backpack per person
  • bottles of water* (If you wrap the bottles with paracord and then wrap a couple of feet of duct tape over the paracord, you’ll have two extra survival supplies on hand without taking up any extra space.)
  • a few water purification tablets (If bottled water runs out and all you can find is “wild” water, these are a compact method of water purification.)
  • long-sleeved, cotton shirts and floppy hats
  • large black plastic trash bags (use as raincoats, protection from the weather, an emergency sleeping bag)
  • band-aids, moleskin
  • small bottle of sunblock
  • hard candy (sugar for quick energy)
  • granola bars (2 or 3 per backpack)
  • cell phone charger (just in case cell phones are still operational)
  • one or two flash lights with a set of extra batteries
  • signaling mirror
  • roll of toilet paper
  • Swiss Army knife
  • waterproof matches and a fire striker
  • 2 or 3 vaseline coated cotton balls
  • pepper spray and a handgun with an extra loaded magazine (What? You want me to be out on the road, alone with the kids, and no way to fend off zombies??)

My goal is for everyone to get home quickly.  I have light camping equipment in my vehicle’s 72 Hour Kit, but I don’t want to be camping if at all possible!  If I load everyone’s Get-Home backpacks with too much weight, all I will hear is complaining from the kids, and you know how that wears on a mom’s nerves.  I want to have only the essentials, but plenty of them.  If you divvy up the supplies on this list, no one’s backpack should weigh more than just a couple of pounds.

I didn’t include emergency food because once everyone starts eating, you know what happens next, and who knows how available toilet facilities will be.  With some hard candies in everyone’s packs, there will be a steady flow of sugar and something to keep the kids busy on the trek home.  The granola bars will take the edge off true hunger if our journey takes longer than expected.

If you’ve ever been homeless or even away from home during a crisis, you know the almost physical feeling of longing to be where you belong, at home.  If a calamity strikes while you’re out and about, assess your situation.  Decide if it’s better to stay put or head for home, and if driving is impossible, pack up those Get Home bags and get home!

42 thoughts on “Baby Step #4: Get home, no matter what”

  1. Don't forget: road map, rain poncho, sunglasses. Bandannas are very versatile and take up little space. Make sure the shoes you pack are already broken in. Rotate water bottles frequently, as the elevated temps in the car can make the plastic bottles leach chemicals into the water more quickly. Don't forget electrolyte powder so you don't get the shakes from salt depletion.

    My commute is 40 miles each way through farm country. I doubt seriously my ability to make it in less than a day on foot. I've been considering putting a folding bike in my trunk, but haven't found a cheap used one yet.

    Your list is almost exactly what I keep in my car.

    1. TheSurvivalMom

      I'm glad you brought up electrolyte powder. I made a number of my own packets of the stuff last week: 3 T. sugar, 1 t. salt. I put the mixture in small snack-size Zip-locs and stuffed about a dozen of them in my vehicle 72 hour kit. Use one packet per liter of water. I found the recipe over at Avian Flu, I believe.

      1. Agree on the electrolyes … and I'll add my 5-hour energy shots. I love those, and would need them especially if I'm responsible for little kids … you wouldn't be able to afford down time.

        1. TheSurvivalMom

          I wish I could say that those energy drinks give me energy, but they don't. Sometimes I notice that a coffee drink helps a bit. I could maybe stock one or two of those Starbucks Frappucciino drinks in the 72 Hour Kit! You are right about the need for moms to stay strong and have enough energy to see our family through a crisis. I worry about that a bit just because I'm the one who could be injured or coming down with a flu bug or something else. I think that's just one more reason for us to help our kids become competent and confident. I know my 11 yo daughter is resourceful enough to provide three meals a day for the family if she had to.

          1. You're right. There are many days that I can go right to sleep immediately after a cup of coffee AND an energy shot. 🙁 But 4 out of 5 times they seem to work. Not when you're exhausted, but if you're desperate, maybe even the placebo effect is worth something.

  2. apartmentprepper

    I also keep some dollar bills and change just in case, for toll roads and such, and if someone has a chronic condition, some meds or inhaler for the long trek home. Thanks for a good post.

  3. Always have some medical kit in the BOB. For a quick and useful kit for basic issues, start with a small general kit, but be sure to have….
    Ibuprofen, 200mg… 1 small bottle. Inflammation from long walks can be reduced with this.
    Mole skin
    Some burn gel and a burn dressing
    Individually packaged sanitary wipes
    An antihistamine

    A long walk can expose you to the sun, dehydration, stubbed toes and injured joints, lacerated hands and elbows from falls, blisters, CRAMPS, overheating, caloric starvation, etc…

    You must be hydrated, fed, properly outfitted for walking /hiking, and ready to perform first aid on others or yourself.

  4. Don't have a fold up bike? How about keeping a SKATEBOARD in your trunk. They don't take up too much room
    and can power you along……

    1. TheSurvivalMom

      I bought my husband a skateboard for his 43rd birthday. He still needs practice but some of his old childhood skills came back pretty quickly! A skateboard is much more compact than a bike, and who knows! It could really work out well for someone trying to get home in a hurry!

  5. This was a great post. Motivated a brief discussion with my husband about where I would be if I couldn't be at home. Although we hadn't really discussed it before we both had the exact same thoughts. This really is one of my worst nightmares since my huband works away from home for weeks at a time. He can be anywhere from an hours drive to a 12 hours drive so it could be days on foot. He also could be out in the middle of a lake somewhere. I know my husbands skills and would never give up waiting for him to return home. I still have to go over plans with the kids especially since I have another one about ready to start driving. Also make sure everyone has contact phone numbers for everyone else not only programed into their cell phones but written down as well.

    1. TheSurvivalMom

      All of us have to give some thought to 'what ifs', even when the thought itself scares us. My husband works all over the valley where we live, but I think he could make it home in two days on foot from just about anywhere. Having emergency phone numbers programmed into cell phones is a good idea. Making sure those phones are always charged and actually in my kids pockets is another issue!

  6. My mom asked me an interesting question last night. How prepared are the public schools in the event of a SHTF scenario? I can imagine some children being picked up by parents who are close enough to the school, but a situation is feasible were students and faculty may need to be housed longer than 24 hours. Is your local school prepared?

    My mom is a teacher's para-professional. Last May her school had a bomb threat at 4 p.m. Luckily most students had left for the day. The school went into lock-down and no one was allowed in or out until the all clear at 7:30 p.m.!!!

    1. TheSurvivalMom

      I think all public schools have to have some sort of plan in place, but they are definitely not equipped for anything that might go on longer than just a couple of hours. At the very least, every classroom should have some sort of emergency toilet set-up, a few gallons of water, and maybe boxes of granola bars or something. (Gotta watch out for food allergies.) A lot of kids would have cell phones, even young kids, so contacting parents and getting outside help wouldn't be an issue. What other ideas can you think of for schools? As a former teacher, all I can say is that it would be a NIGHTMARE, especially for teachers whose own kids were out there somewhere.

      1. I have REALLY been concerned about this and the effect on school children. In an EMP attack, most likely
        parents would not be able to DRIVE to school to pick up the kids. The buses wouldn't be working. No cell phones would be working. What a panic this would cause for parents who had small children and couldn't get to them! And then I thought of the teachers who would want to get to their home to their children or somehow gather their children from other schools. They are not going to want to shelter in place with hundreds of school children waiting for their parents to pick them up which may not be for a long time! It would be nice if our schools could broach this EMP scenario with parents to have them at least start thinking of a possible plan of action.

        1. After reading One Second After, I've thought about this too. The county officials hear all know me now, and in a good way (I've been raising money for the library – they like me), so I may directly talk to the Superintendent of Schools next time I see him somewhere, or a Board of County Supervisors rep. It seems to me that for about 15 minutes of talk time and a $10 investment, they can have some measure of preparedness. $10 for an ammo can or similar to hold a couple walkie talkies or something similar so they can communicate, maybe even a netbook. Fifteen minutes to explain what an EMP is to teachers. Keep a printout (up to date AT ALL TIMES) of all the school buses and who is on them. If necessary, have teachers start walking in that direction with groups of kids. At the beginning of the year, send home maps with "drop points" and route maps for kids if that has to happen so parents can meet up part way if needed. Teachers can go with groups of kids who live in the same direction as their home. It doesn't help with the issue of parents potentially not being home when their kids get there, but then it's up to parents to have contingencies set up for that.

          What do you think?

          1. Sounds great Liz. Hope your Superintendent listens. The EMP scenario worries me the most. The lack of communication and the need to shelter children and staff long term is a contingency plan every school district should consider!

  7. If you carry a firearm as emergency equipment, be sure to keep it well concealed. After Katrina, police, National Guard, even the Lake Patrol (near Lake Pontchartrain), anyone with a smidgeon of authority, were confiscating firearms with no receipt, and no recourse. The Supreme Court ruled this as illegal, but that was after the fact. Most people did not ever get their firearms back. To get on the busses to get out of the city, many authorities first searched backpacks, diaper bags, or any belongings of the refugees. I highly recommend ankle holsters, and lie like a dog. Deny you have a weapon if asked.

    1. Many years ago, I was told that a "gun" is something on a ship or a tank – far too large for one person to pick up and carry. Personal firearms are "weapons" or "firearms". Therefore, under that definition, you can honestly and in good faith, at any point in time, tell them that you most certainly are NOT carrying a gun. Makes it easier to look 'em in the eye and say it, at any rate!

      1. LOL
        I would feel bad lying to a good and honest person, even if the lie was for a good outcome. I do not feel bad lying to a bad person, a victimizer, or someone doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason. I don't cheat, I don't steal. I go back to the store to return too much change. But I'll lie myself blue to keep a bad person from "winning", and I won't mind lying to keep my family safe.

  8. I just found your site and think you are doing great work. Having said that I would ask you to reconsider your granola bar/hard candy food idea. Have you ever lived off of that for 72 hours? Or your kids?

    When I was in Ranger School we were given 1 MRE per day. That equaled between 1200-2000 calories per day. With LOTS of exertion it was NOT enough…not even close really.

    If you don't envision being away from home long, then don't call it a 72 hour kit. However, if you truly want a 72 hour kit you seriously need to reconsider your lack of food. Food provides nutrients and salt lost through exertion. If you do not have a minimal amount of calories you will have clouded judgement at best and go down at worst. I'd rather have to deal with the pooping problem than the "thousand yard zombie stare" or irrational "i need a burger no matter what" thinking of the troops.

    Something to think about anyway…

  9. I have to agree with JeSter on the food issue – I would not get any cooperation from my two small children if they weren't getting enough food. Heck, if they miss a meal they are impossible. lol A good post though, and a good reminder for me right now as we head into what is prime wildfire season in our AO.

    1. TheSurvivalMom

      He made a good point, and I do have more food than just candies and granola bars in my actual vehicle kit. What I had in mind was enough food/snacks to last a hike back home, thinking it would be just a few miles at most. Be sure to check out the food suggestions in my post today, "Eat nutritiously even when the power is out."

  10. Great post and great comments everyone! I too agree with JeSTer. Re-think the food thing. I have a Get Home bag in my car (I work a 45 minutes drive from home so it would be a long walk!). In that bag, I have an MREs, water and water bottle, granola type bars, etc. Not only will you need just the regular calories to keep you alert but if you are burning tons of caleries walking home, you will need even more intake.

  11. MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat) are great options for your food for the car, they are very compact and really don't taste bad at all. We did a taste test of 8 of the variety of entree's they offer and all of them were palatible. It isn't a bad idea to get a few to sample at (@$3.00ea) You could hold a family preparedness night each month and your family could taste test to see which flavors suit them. Then you will know when the emergency happens that they will eat the food you have stored. It is not a great time to find out your 6 year old is in shock and won't eat the only food you have because it is not tasting good to him/her.
    Also the Coast Guard Bars are like (lorna doone shortbread cookies) They are high calorie and not hard to store in a tight space and don't taste bad either.

      1. Hi Lena,

        You can go on to buy individual MRE meal packs for less than $10 or you can buy the individual pieces that make up the pack. Some of the entrees are less than $3. Depends on what you want. Pam replied back in 2010, so I’m sure prices have gone up since then. There are a bunch of websites/stores you can buy MREs, but Emergency Essentials is the one I’ve purchased from before. They have sales all the time too. But shop around, you might find a better deal. Hope this helps!

  12. "One Second After" reads like a novel but packs a punch of reality. If you can find them, "Alas Babylon" and 'Lucifer's Hammer' are what if SHTF books. Better to think worst case scenario and prepare than not.

  13. I've thought about this for a couple of days now, and I agree — in the event of a disaster that eliminates communication, there are just too many variables that can go wrong. A couple of additional thoughts:

    I was in NY, living the county north of the city, during 9/11. I watched the planes fly into the WTC on TV and tried to call right away but my better half was on the subway where signals don't get thru. 10 minutes later, cell sats were down. It turns out they kept running the subways downtown for some time after the first attack as they had no idea what else to do. Of course the first car, they pulled up just shy of the platform so no one could get out. All the passengers had to sit there while dust and debris poured in, choking them all. Finally they just all pushed to the front of the train and climbed out (despite MTA and Fire Dept telling them to stay put). Up on the street … what a mess. Besides the obvious there were hundreds of womens' dress shoes, discarded in order to run. Or just walk some distance comfortably. I bet you could have sold a backpack with a dust mask or bandanna, water, and sneakers for $1,000 easily. Lessons learned:

    1. "Authority figures" will have no idea what they are doing in a true large-scale emergency. They're winging it just like every one else. Use your own common sense.
    2. There will likely be a delay, and therefore a window of opportunity, before everything goes south, as most folks are pre-disposed to "keep doing what they always do" — act fast.
    3. Make sure you have the tools to do what you need to during the window.

    By scrambling out of the subway, having decent shoes on, and going immediately to Grand Central, ended up on the last train out of the city before all the transport and bridges were shut down.

    1. I agree with the keep moving suggestion.
      I live in St Louis where a couple of years ago a tornado hit the airport and surrounding areas. My stepfather was driving home from work on the highway at the time, the winds blew all the windows out of his car. As he was amazingly not hurt beyond minor scratches he drove around all the people stopping on the road and made it home. The authorities showed up a couple minutes after he got through and shut the roads down, leaving drivers stranded for hours. A relatively minor example, especially as compared to yours, but nonetheless a situation where continuing to move was the best option.

  14. Try packing a 9-cube Mainstay bar – it's 3 days food for one person. Or they sell them in 3 packs, a single day supply. And they taste very good, like a crumbly lemon shortcake. They come in sealed packages and keep 5 years. Excellent for day packs! Each square is 400 calories, definately enough to make a child's tummy happy!

    1. TheSurvivalMom

      That's a great suggestion! I purposely kept my food load lighter than some of my readers agreed with because I was taking into consideration the weight load as well as my comment about having to find bathrooms. In my part of the country, too, the inside of my Tahoe can easily reach 140+ degrees and many foods do not do well in those temperatures. I'll track down some of these Mainstay bars and give them a try. Thanks!

  15. I have just foud your website and will continue to read thru it. Working in the DC area as an Economist I was given a security detail as part of my current position. " get home no matter what" was one of the first discussions we had. I have never had to put it into use but I can tell you that this is one of the first things they tell you and they intend to help you do. My children and my partner live by this rule. Great advice.

    1. Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting. It's always nice to hear from those who live in the "belly of the beast", so to speak. :o) Since we all have ample provisions in our homes for any number of crises, it makes sense to "get home, no matter what" a top priority. Besides, I'd hate to think of all my stored chocolate going to waste or my doggies having to resort to toilet water for survival.

  16. I've heard that you aren't supposed to freeze seeds. Presuming this is true, and one has already frozen the seeds, are the seeds now worthless and just need to be pitched in the trash?

    I certainly hope not … if so this will be an expensive lesson learned.



    1. Not to worry. You can definitely freeze seeds. The jury is out on whether or not they need oxygen during storage, but to be on the safe side, don't use a vacuum sealer (Food Saver system) to store them.

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  18. Great blog with many useful ideas. Thanks to your appearance on Glenn Beck, I found you and I will definitely check your blog out on a regular basis.

  19. I wanted to add something that my husband and I thought of… what happens if we are separated but also can’t stay at home? If the kids and I have to Bug Out, but Hubby makes it home, how will he know where to go to find us? Leaving a note is good… but what if the house is ransacked? What about OPSEC? We decided that we needed a place to hide a note if we had to leave the house. We chose to tape the note to the bottom of our giant cat tree. No one is going to steal it. If it get’s knocked over, the note still wouldn’t be noticeable. We would be able to communicate a plan and know right where to look to find it.

  20. I would be so screwed if a SHTF situation if my car wasn’t working and it happened while we’re not at home. My kids go to 3 different schools spread across the city and are all too little to get anywhere (2, 4 and 6).  

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