Get home prepping with kids – thinking beyond the bug out bag

by M.D. Creekmore on December 16, 2013 · 22 comments

This is a guest post by Marney and entry for our non-fiction writing contest.

pic of bug out bagWhen I returned to work as a single mother with three young children attending pre-school and kindergarten, I quickly realized that I needed a better plan if disaster struck while I was driving or at work and my children were in the car or at school. I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to strengthen this aspect of my preparation.

Many preppers, myself included, are very enthusiastic in those prepping activities that involve acquiring and storing, (dare I say hoarding?) supplies. To be sure having a GBH (Get Home Bag) ready is an important first step. But I will suggest that training and practice are more important, especially for those who have younger children. As I moved from simply having a Get Home Bag and stores of supplies at home, to actually using them, I realized many weaknesses and deficiencies in my planning.

For as long as I can remember, I have always kept a backpack full of emergency supplies in my car. Only after having children did I become more intentional in this process. Every prepper needs to stick with her own world-view. For me, I decided early that I didn’t want “prepping” to drive my life and I certainly did not want it to be a focus for my kids. At the same time, I didn’t want to be a total fool. So for now, I have primarily focused on the possibility of a major earthquake because I consider it to be the most likely emergency scenario for my area. My thinking was thus: a major earthquake might involve electricity blackout, phone blackout, water shortage and significant structural collapses. It could also involve fire, flood, rioting and nuclear disaster. These scenarios have given me more than enough to concentrate on for now but I understand that many preppers take additional scenarios into account.

My original Get Home Bag included most of the basics:

  • Sturdy shoes (I often wear heels to work)
  • A change of clothes (tough pants, shirt, fleece hoodie)
  • Change of clothes and shoes for the kids
  • Water and some MREs, kid-friendly snacks, etc.
  • Lighter and fire-starter
  • Flashlight/headlamp and glowsticks
  • Turbine charger for batteries
  • Two-way radio with a.m. capability and headphones
  • First Aid kit
  • 3 emergency blankets, 3 black plastic bags and some empty ziplock bags
  • My emergency contact list and a roll of quarters + copies of key papers and
  • Knife, axe, and crowbar
  • Cash
  • And a few other unmentionables…

I had identified two very different routes from my workplace to my childrens’ schools and a number of variations within those routes. I was able to identify three very distinct routes from their schools to our “home” base. It seemed reasonable. For a while, I thought I had done a pretty decent job. And then I decided to do some training, practice drills, etc. I quickly saw that my disaster plan was a disaster.

I realized that even though my workplace is only about five miles from my kids’ school that I was not in good enough shape to run that route with my backpack. In fact, I wasn’t in good enough shape to walk it at a reasonable speed with the heavy pack I had created. And on a couple of practice walks, I started noticing all of the hazards that were potentially going to block my way: power lines, bridges and overpasses that might come down, areas that looked very prone to landslide, 16’ cement walls that I would need to scale if the bridges were down, etc. How had I not noticed these problems? I also tried walking part of the Get Home Route with my children and became painfully aware that they were slow, clumsy, and well, whiny. In my mind, I had calculated that barring injury, I could have my kids and myself safely returned to home base in under three hours. Reality intruded on that fantasy.

I also realized that a number of complications were likely to arise in the process of picking my kids up that would lead to delays. What if the rest of the kids in their class had no supplies? Would I just leave them there to fend for themselves? What if my close friends’ kids were there—should I take them with me also? Leave them to wait for their parents? What if someone arrived at one of my kids’ schools first? Would they take my kid home? While I have a fair amount of confidence in my children’s schools under normal circumstances (I have been pleasantly surprised by their security measures), one has to assume that when the SHTF, all sane decision-making will go by the wayside.

So I realized it was time to adjust and while my adjustments are by no means perfect, they have put us in a substantially better position.

One of the first steps I took was getting myself appointed as the Earthquake Preparedness director at my kids’ schools. I know many preppers choose to homeschool but that is not financially possible for me. So I became Earthquake Mom. This was easy as no one wanted this job. No one looked over my shoulder either. I stockpiled about 100 times more water and food than they had on hand previously and I insisted that most of it be inside actual classrooms (before they had it all locked away in a storage area). Each classroom is now also equipped with solar and turbine battery chargers, two-way radios, flashlights, emergency toilet, and first aid supplies.

I insisted on having individual student emergency cards inside each classroom kit (as opposed to in the administration office) with specific instructions from parents about what they want done in the event of an evacuation situation. Information like out-of-state contacts and physical addresses are included. Many parents with useful skills were eager to become involved: firefighters, law enforcement officers, engineers, doctors, etc. Their involvement led to much better first aid kits, communications equipment, “inside information,” and a host of smart planning that I wouldn’t have come up with on my own. We also revamped the school’s policies for evacuation and child pick-up. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than the false sense of security that existed before. Training sessions were held for other parents and the schools conducted significantly more teacher training. Obviously not every school will be as cooperative in embracing and implementing such robust preparations but I was surprised by how easy it was in my case.

Now one of the obvious downsides of becoming the public face of emergency preparedness at your kids’ school or anywhere else is that you completely blow your OPSEC. I am not particularly worried about this for both unselfish and selfish reasons. My better side hopes that the preparations made the school safer, that other parents might be inspired to better prepare themselves at home and that in the event of a disaster, all of the students will be a little bit better off than they might have been. More selfishly, we have a secure Bug-In location that is about half a mile from our actual home that no one (including my children) knows about, so I feel we are relatively secure if we need to just hole up.
.
The next major area of improvement has simply involved getting myself and my children in much better physical condition. My three year old can now walk six miles at a decent pace and actually enjoys it. I’ve always loved hiking and now we hike every weekend and on some afternoons. It has become part of our family fun time. I also have introduced them to geocaching and have set up various geocaches along our routes home.

I have cached a variety of supplies along my routes to lighten my backpack. Even though we live in an urban area, it was not difficult to find many easy cache spots. Since we now walk one of our get-home routes every other week, we are able to check on the caches to make sure they haven’t been spoiled. So far, none have been discovered. I often hide little surprises for the kids to make these practice walks more fun. Sometimes they even run along the route wanting to get to the next cache to see what they’ll find (needless to say, caches following uphill stretches always have the best surprises). Another advantage of this frequent practice is that these routes are now familiar to my children. They could lead others. They could manage at night. They do not find them scary or difficult anymore.

Lastly, I have done far more research on all of my possible routes. Printing satellite maps has enabled me to identify all the different possible hazards and ways around them. I have marked power lines, overpasses, etc. I learned that SoCal Gas publishes maps of its Gas Transmission and High Pressure Distribution Pipeline (http://www.socalgas.com/safety/pipeline-maps/). Looking at those maps was sobering and dramatically altered some of my ideas about which routes were most likely to be safe. I also obtained maps of the water main infrastructure as broken main pipelines can cause significant flooding and sinkholes. Strategic analysis of these maps is difficult because there are water mains everywhere but the maps might help me navigate around flooding during an event. I keep map and route printouts in my Get Home Bag and caches along with some new supplies (climbing rope being a key addition).

I am now much more familiar with the risk of fire in my area. Part of this came from discussions with parent firefighters and part of it came from my own research. I have had to recalibrate my risk assessment significantly. I originally had undervalued fire both in terms of likelihood and seriousness. I feel foolish because I spent time and money prepping other types of supplies first when fire protection should have been a much higher priority. I also concluded that I needed a much better contingency plan in the event that fire prevents us from getting to the Bug-In location at all. These areas are where my next prepping efforts are focused.

Overall, practicing and really working through my prep plans has led to a number of adjustments and improvements. Camping and hiking are great activities to do with young children and I highly recommend that all preppers incorporate these activities into their family life.

Prizes for this round in our non fiction writing contest include…

  1. First place winner will receive – Two (2) Just In Case… Classic Assortment Survival Food Buckets courtesy of LPC Survival, a $150 gift certificate for Remington ammunition courtesy of LuckyGunner, aWonder Junior Deluxe grain mill courtesy of Kitchen Neads, a one year subscription to the Personal VPN service courtesy of unspyable and a Survival Puck courtesy of Innovation Industries, LLC.
  2. Second place winner will receive – One case of Future Essentials Canned Organic Green Costa Rican Monte Crisol Coffee courtesy of Campingsurvival.com and Solo Stove and Solo Pot Courtesy of EmergencyFoodWarehouse.com.
  3. Third place winner will receive – a copy of my book ”31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness“ courtesy of TheSurvivalistBlog.net, a copy of “The Survival Medicine Handbook” courtesy of www.doomandbloom.net and a Wolf Pack Coffee Mug Jumbo Mug courtesy of Horton Design.

Be sure to read the rules before entering… This contest will end on January 15 2014

22 comments

Nebraska Woman December 16, 2013 at 9:47 am

Wow! Great article.
I especially like the idea of physical fitness preparedness. Not many children in the USA can walk 6 miles, and many more life farther away from school then that. Cudos to you.
I also bless the fact that you have insisted on supplies being in the classroom. As a former teacher that sounds so sensible to me. I kept things like tp, kleenex, water, and snacks in my storage area, but when I moved to a different room I did not have the storage. And to top it off, the school district decided that no antiseptic of any kind was to be kept in the room and even took my supply of hand-wipes I used for desks, doorknobs, etc.
You have my vote for mom of the year.

Nebraska Woman December 16, 2013 at 10:26 am

Again I posted before coffee and no glasses on…not wise.
2nd line”…many more live farther away than that.”

N2Y December 16, 2013 at 9:54 am

I am envious of your ingenuity. Really great job with the kids. I am nowhere near this type of thinking. Our most likely natural disaster is a hurricane so luckily we have some warning but if one of the more unlikely scenarios like an EMP happened I wonder about getting to the kids at school.
My SHTF scenarios in order of probability and personal fear are; hurricanes, pandemic, economic collapse. I hope to read the warnings and signs and have us all together and prepared. So I haven’t put too much energy in a GHB and plans, but that I have an emergency bag in our vehicles. After reading this I think part of my resolution for the year will be making plans for all of us to get home, just in case.

Mike December 16, 2013 at 11:21 am

Most schools have a list of authorized individuals that can pick up your kids from school, but in addition, you and your kids should have a code word or phrase that is ONLY known between the parents and the kids. So if a parent does ask you to pick up the kids, only then will you learn the code word/phrase to tell the kids; this way the kids ‘know’ that mom or dad had sent you.
I have this worked out with my daughter & SIL, that IF they ever need me to get the grandchildren, a) I am on the list of authorized people, and b) even if authorized, the kids are old enough (11 and 12) to know that if I do not tell them the code word, that they are to inform the school that I didn’t have the code word that tells them that mom or dad sent me.

rjarena December 16, 2013 at 11:37 am

I do not have school aged children to worry about, my main concern would be getting my wife and myself back home. At the current time we work only a mile or so apart, and then 7 miles home, but it can be(depending in the time of year ) a hard walk. If I did have school aged children, I wonder if something does happen could you get them out of school? The author talks about having the student emergency cards in the class room, but what if the school does not want to release them? and if there is an emergency situation, and you do not have your car, will you be able to enter the school if you are armed? At that point I could care less about school rules, but if they have metal detectors does this become an issue?

suzy q December 16, 2013 at 11:47 am

Great idea to work with the kids to get them used to the walking. Years ago I heard a story about a mother and child who were with a group of people fleeing one area for another. The child started lagging behind and eventually mother and child were separated from their group. The child almost died when they were caught by the enemy and the child dropped from a bridge. Fortunately, someone from their group had come back to find them and was under the bridge and caught the child.

You might want to include a game when walking such as how quiet can we be between Point A and Point B – how fast can we go to get to Point C and repeat until you get home. Don’t do it everytime you hike or go for a walk but try it a few times a month.

Penrod December 16, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Wow. Great prepping, Marney. That is really impressive.

My DW is a teacher in primary school. The schools in Hawaii have a surprisingly detailed emergency plan in place statewide, tho I haven’t read it lately. Guess I’d better. I do know that in an emergency the staff are required by law to remain at the school until all the kids have been picked up.

While the likeliest disaster here is a hurricane, in which schools would be closed the day before it hit, the likeliest sudden disaster here is also an earthquake.

As with any plan, implementation and maintenance are a problem. I have examined one of the first aid packs required to be taken along on field trips, and found some supplies with expiration dates as far back as 1999. If the person in charge retires/quits, responsibility may not get passed on. I guess that is just the way things work, so it is great that you took responsibility.

I like keeping the supply kits and student info in each classroom: Parts of the school may be too dangerous to enter for supplies or student files, so the more redundancy the better. Otherwise, if the storeroom or admin areas collapsed, you would be out of luck.

One suggestion: you might add public and private swimming pools to your maps. After a major earthquake they may be the only water available for some time.

I hope you keep at it. If we had more people like you, the country would be in much better shape.

N2Y December 16, 2013 at 3:07 pm

The water situation is my biggest obstacle. Other than the water we have on hand in any get home situation, we are surrounded by water without a drop to drink. It is all salt water. I could store more in our vehicles but the weight is an issue. How have you all handled caches? On private property? There is one church that I might be able to use although it would be interesting to say the least if I got caught digging a hole to bury water. I wonder if people would start out more or less polite and water could still be bought with cash in the beginning?

Penrod December 16, 2013 at 3:38 pm

My guess is water would be one of the very first things to go after an earthquake. You certainly could not count on getting any at a store. Of course, soft drinks would be a back up, but probably would disappear about the same time.

We do keep several bottles of commercially bottled water in each vehicle, and rotate them out now and then. Fortunately we don’t have to worry about them freezing. My DW keeps hers in a plastic box in the trunk, in case one pops a leak. Mine are mostly flopping around on the floor behind my seat, and in a back-of-the-seat organizer. Ideally we would have more, but as you say weight (and bulk) are a limiting factor.

If DW was walking home all the way from work (she could almost certainly drive most of the way, but debris might be an issue in a truly bad quake) she would have plenty of water. From most of our day to day stops we would have adequate water, but not lots.

The scary situation would be an earthquake big enough to bring down the overpasses: There is no way to drive to or from our ridge without crossing a highway which has very high vertical walls. One would have to walk several miles to get to sloped embankment, then back.

Fortunately a quake that bad is quite unlikely on Oahu. Possible, but unlikely. We can’t fix the overpass problem, it is unlikely to happen, so we don’t worry about what we can’t fix.

Seamus Finn December 16, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Incredible post!

I would call that a perfect article! =D

Docj December 16, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Fantastic article. No kids but picked up new ideas.

Donna in MN December 16, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Great Job in your preparedness, Two “Woo woos and you go girl” for you!

Glacier-Blue December 16, 2013 at 6:30 pm

You did a good job! Half the battle is doing proper planning and exploring a lot of “what ifs”. Your original Get Home bag is designed for an extended trip. If you need to travel a distance where you need a few overnight stops, then your bag would work. If you are only traveling five miles you want something that is light in the event you need to travel by longshank. If you find yourself in a situation where you have to get home or get to your kids schools ASAP you want to only carry things that will help to reach your objective. One thing you may want to consider is to keep a bike at work. You could probably pick up a used mountain bike at a reasonable price. In fact spend some lunch hours biking around your workplace neighborhood. your cohorts don’t need to know what it’s for. It’s a good way to get exercise. 8-) So if the SHTF your first mode of travel to your kids schools would be your car; go as far in your car as you can, If auto travel becomes impossible then use your bicycle. Finally if bike travel is impossible use your legs.
There is one other item that I recommend you consider for your car and that is a trunk gun with enough ammunition to get you home. The gun could be one of the smaller inexpensive AK’s, or a short barrel carbine. Why have a trunk gun you say? With a major natural disaster, law and order will temporally be suspended. You might meet some unsavory people/looters while trying to reach your home. You may never need your trunk gun, but it’s like insurance…it’s nice to have it when you need it. If you decide a trunk gun would work for you then I would caution you to get proper training, and practice at your local Firing Range.
I would recommend you hunker down at your home rather than some hidy hole a half mile distant. However if staying in your home becomes untenable then make sure you have small backpacks for each of the kids and they know where they are going. Shelter, clothing, and food are key to your survival.
Good luck

N2Y December 17, 2013 at 11:19 am

I wonder if civilization will fall apart that quickly. I believe it will take about 36 hours for most people to realize how bad thing are about to get. I also think law enforcement will stay on the job at least that long and even the criminals will still operate under those expectations. The cities might have looting sooner but that will be for electronics and crap. Businesses may be robbed bit I would think the first day, maybe two, an individual could move about unless they made themselves a target or got unlucky. In smaller towns I think it will take even longer. My thoughts are that you have 2 or 3 days to get where you need to lock it down and all bets are off.

patientmomma December 16, 2013 at 8:34 pm

Wonderful article!! Very thought provoking! You made us all think how we could get home from our various work, school, or shopping in case of a disaster. I realized after an active shooter situation at work, getting out the area where I work would be difficult; but the usual 30 minute drive would turn into many hours for me to get home if I had to hike it.

PrepperWebsite December 16, 2013 at 11:10 pm

Great Article! I wish more schools were prepared like yours!

Todd

LyndaKay December 17, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Would a light weight folding “umbrella” stroller come in handy? It weighs less than 8 lbs. It supports 40 lbs., which can be either a small child or supplies. I’ve seen them listed for $20 – $30. Depending on the time of day, the littlest one might need a break while the rest of you still have energy to walk (and push). Great article.

Southern Belle December 17, 2013 at 7:11 pm

I truly enjoyed this article. Great job on your plans. I wish all the parents at the school where I teach would be as proactive as you are. :) We have difficulty just getting parents to pick up their sick children. I cannot even imagine what would happen in a SHTF situation.

mom of three December 18, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Great article we live 5 minutes from my oldest middle school, walking. My youngest is 20 minutes walking so I can do both.. I agree on hiking, and biking I am the most I out of shape but I am trying to drop 15 pounds, I would be at a good weight. I know we could get to my parents, pretty quickly and stay there. They have a well, and 12 acres, if we had to live plus we have a camper, and camper bus, that we could use for extra beds. Great points, will use these in my prepping.

OhioPrepper December 22, 2013 at 12:32 am

Marney,
Most of my MAG members are outgoing people who have also made a conscious decision to be people who “step up” to a challenge. Whether simply opening a door for someone with a load or being the first to help when a situation occurs that need people to act. There have been cases where someone falls to the ground, perhaps due to a stroke or heart attack, and many people will stand around waiting for someone to do something. Stepping up and being the first person to “do something” will often make others act, especially when you point at people and give them something to do, like call 911, or stop the oncoming traffic, etc.
In your case, being the “do something” person and taking on the responsibilities for earthquake coordination, appears to have paid off in a similar fashion. Instead of being the lonely “doer”, you have been able to bring other people into the mix with skills and equipment. It has been my experience that many very skilled and potentially helpful people are not leaders, but when led well and given tasks to perform, can help makes a very good impromptu team. Good for you.
As for your OPSEC, unless you’ve already blown it, try and keep the “preaching” about prepping to the FEMA (ready.gov) and Red Cross preparedness guidelines, which are typical for a 3-7 day kit. Although you may be far beyond this, just getting people to do the simple 72-hour kit will be helpful for everyone, and in addition, has the federal government and the Red Cross organization backing you for credibility.

Medic23920 December 25, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Wow… That’s impressive! I envy your motivation, responsibility, and preparedness. Thanks for the eye-opening article.

Barbara December 28, 2013 at 2:07 pm

We are moving soon to an area that gets hit by storms and flooding. This is a great way to be prepared in any situation and ensure the kids have what they need. I would never have thought of this.

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