In The Wake of Tragedy: What’s the Most Important Survival Question You Can Ask?

Picture this… You’re standing naked in the middle of your living room…you have 6 seconds to get out of your house. What do you grab?

Now I know my posse here at More Cowbell, and whatever just went through your mind was HILARIOUS. Be sure to scribble that thought and include it down in the comments!

But seriously, in the event of an earthquake/tornado/hurricane/fire, WHAT do you grab before you run? This is the all-important question you must ask when you’re trying to get prepared for these sorts of things.

Everything moves forward from this simple 6 seconds example.

The easiest answer? You grab your bag, which has everything already in it! If you’re a smart planner, you’ll have one of these bags at home, one at work and one in each car.

Most of you know about my brother, The Bag Whore, who carries “at least four firestarters on his person at any time.” Yes, he’s over the top, but he’s the guy you want on your disaster team. Many of you know I also married Mr. Disaster Recovery.

This means I’ve gathered some important survival tricks via osmosis. [Note: My answer on what to grab before these guys would have been “my purse and my laptop.”]

So, what do you put in “the Go Bag?”

Bob Mayer, writer extraordinaire and ex-Green Beret, just did a post on this that’s excellent. He listed 27 items that he feels should be in what he calls the “Grab & Go Bag” (G&G for short).

The biggest question, as Bob points out, is “how much bag can you carry?” Perhaps if you have a bad back, your Go Bag is on wheels. Whatever. You need to think of these sorts of things in advance.

  • Will you be walking over urban or rugged terrain?
  • Do you need special kind of food like me? (I’m completely gluten intolerant.)
  • Do you have kids to take care of (home bag), or will you be on your own (work bag)?
  • What are the most common natural disasters in your area?
  • Have you scanned your pictures to a portable disk?
  • Do you have your passports and drivers licenses, or an electronic copy?
  • Are your e-copies on a secure drive?

Remember my brother’s advice: “One is better than none, two is better than one, and three would always be better.” Keep that in mind when you’re packing your bag.

If you do nothing else, you at least spend a little money and have a ready-to-go emergency bag like this in your car. (<–Brand recommended by Bob Mayer)

What most people don’t realize is, while you can survive up to a week without food, you can only last a few days without water. In either scenario (no food or no water), you’ll be pissed off and cranky, only without water you’ll also be dead. In most disaster scenarios, water is the first item to become scarce or contaminated.

So how much water to you actually need at home, and how do you store it?

The recommended amount is one gallon per person per day. Include your pets in this scenario, especially if you have a big dog.

Example: For a family of four with two dogs, you need to have 6 gallons a day stored. Three days or 72 hours is the minimum amount (which is 18 gallons) but the recommended amount of time you want to plan for is a week. That’s 42 gallons of water.

Available at REI for $17

Available at REI for $17

Here’s the water storage Hubby bought.

He likes the 7 gallon Reliance AquaTainers because they stack and he can carry one if necessary. Also, they have a spigot for easy filling of other bottles and containers.

Plus you need food and enough blankets and tarps to cover you in case the roof of your house blows off.

The reason why Bob Mayer recommends the G&G bag is so you have some basic shelter, food and clothing if you have to run from a flood or fire.

Again, water will always be a challenge and people rarely have enough. Hubby recommends you keep a case of water in your car if at all possible, but if you’re on foot you can only take what you can carry.EmergencyRadioEton

You’ll also need information, usually in the form of a battery-operated emergency radio. Hubby recommends this brand. Sometimes when a disaster hits, you often don’t even know what happened for several hours. Current information is crucial.

I could do five posts on this subject and barely scratch the surface, but in the wake of disasters like Hurricane Sandy, the explosion in West, Texas and the tornado through Moore, Oklahoma, this topic bears some discussion and thought.

Have you ever thought about disaster preparedness? What measures have you put in place? What kind of questions do you have? I’ve got Hubby standing by to answer them, and he’s THE BOMB at this stuff. What was that first “naked in the living room” thought you had above? Enquiring minds always want to know these things here at More Cowbell!


About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm ( Write on!
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43 Responses to In The Wake of Tragedy: What’s the Most Important Survival Question You Can Ask?

  1. You do know your posse, because the first thing that ran through my mind was “a towel.” Why? Because the scenario involves being naked, and I remembered a long-ago incident when I was awakened in the middle-of-the-night by a hotel’s fire alarm. I forgot to pack my nightshirt. I slept naked. I panicked. Adrenaline up! Cognitive thought, boom! I had…to…get…out…of…the…room. I wrapped a bath towel around myself, almost opened the hallway door, but saw my clothes from that day hanging in the closet. On with the skirt & barely buttoned blouse. I ran into the hall, where I found all of the attendees at my seminar standing about wondering what was going on.

    It was a false alarm. When I got back into the room, cognitive thought returned. I was on the first floor. Worse. My room had a freaking door to the outside.

    I will (seriously) look at the links you provided. And amp start upper body weight training so I’m able to tote that honking big water container out of the house or car.

    But, how does one squash thought-quelling panic in disaster situations? Six seconds doesn’t give me time to take calming breaths or count to ten.


    • Gloria, thanks for sharing your experience with a 6 second scenario. The thought is to have a shirt and a pair of old sweat pants in the top of the G&G. That way when you are in a 6 second scenario, you automatically grab the bag, run outside and then take the time to put the shirt and sweats on.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Gloria, you’re so funny. I’m glad you didn’t run into that hallway in a towel. That’s a dreadful way to get to know your fellow conference-goers better, IYKWIM. 🙂

      On the panic front, I think a little prep goes a long way toward that. You have whatever’s in your bag, and therefore you don’t need to panic. A change of clothes, underwear, food bars, shelter, some water…all of those will calm your panic by a mile. Make one bag per family member if you like.

      The advance planning is the key. (And no, I wouldn’t think to do it without Hubby. I’m not the organized one in this relationship!)


  2. Holy crap.

    I am completely unprepared. I used to carry around jugs of water, but someone told me that the plastic leeches into the water and isn’t good for people to consume. Um, I’m thinking it’s probably better to have some water than NO water at all. I’m totally doing this. When I start to pack Tech for summer camp, I’ll wrastle up some stuff together for our family at the same time. The hard thing is going to be to figure out where to put it.

    As cold as it sounds, in a real emergency, I wouldn’t worry about flash drives or old photographs. I’d be worried about food and water. Six seconds isn’t a lot of time to think about this stuff.


  3. Ugh! Life was so much better while I had my head in the sand, happily dreaming that nothing like you’ve described would ever happen. Evah! Sadly, my answer is: I’m not ready at all. You’d think for someone living in California that i would be prepared for that big one… Nope. Well, now you’ve got me thinking. Thanks. Seriously!
    And now, for the not so serious: What the hell was I doing naked in the living room? Wait! Don’t answer that! Puh-lease! I’m 44 now! Even I don’t want to see that! I’m not even naked in the shower now. *snaps elastic waistband on trunks* See!
    Have a great week, Jenny…


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      LOL. I hear you, Jimmy. And the sad fact is that disaster will probably strike when I have dirty hair and no gas in my car. That’s why I asked hubby to throw a ballcap and hair clip in The Bag, and keep a gas container in the car. 😉


  4. Our earthquake emergency bags need revamping…but if they were totally vamped up, then I’d grab shoes, jeans, flannel shirt, underwear and my hormone patches. Because me without my hormones is a scary thought, indeed!

    Seriously, it’s been 20 years since the big quake in Los Angeles, and a lot of our disaster preparedness has gotten lax. It’s time to get back up to speed.


    • I have heard that California is overdue for a massive earthquake (8.0 or higher). According to one site:
      There is an overall 90% risk for a major to strong earthquake (6.4 to 8 magnitude) during this period, a 75% risk for a major (7 to 8 magnitude) earthquake, and a 40% risk for a severe 7.5 to 8 magnitude earthquake.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      LOL, Christine. Be sure to throw some of those hormone patches into the bag so they’re already there. For me, that equivalent is baby aspirin and Lovenox (medicine to prevent a blood clot). I might not need them all the time, but if I get dehydrated…blood clots are more likely and I need that medicine to not die.

      So….it’s in the bag.


  5. LauraDrake says:

    Funny you should bring this up, Jenny, because I had this happen. The last big earthquake we had (early am) I found myself on my feet naked, beside my bed, having no idea how I got there, or what was happening. Then the jolt knocked me off my feet.

    I’ve thought about it since. I should have had shoes or slippers – something I can slip into, right beside the bed. Because if it’s bad enough for you to have to get out, you do not want to be barefoot.

    You’re right, in all the above – I know you’re right. And still, I don’t get prepared.
    Instead, I’m getting out of earthquake country! Sure, Texas has tornadoes, but they don’t scare me – I was raised with them, and know how to handle that!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      You slay me, Laura. I remember that Northridge quake – it shook us all out of bed, and I was up above Santa Monica, so it wasn’t very far away.

      When I lived in Missouri, I used to get into the bathtub whenever the tornado sirens went off, or park my car and run for an overpass or climb into a ditch if I was driving. But I never really got cozy with tornadoes.

      I’d rather a nice quick earthquake any day – you just run for a doorjamb or dive under a sturdy desk if you can’t get out. At least you don’t have cars flying at you or roofs blowing off.


  6. Catie Rhodes says:

    Hurricane Season runs June 1-November 30. This close to the Gulf of Mexico, there is always the possibility of hurricane damage or drama. Around this time of year, I start buying a flat of bottled water each week at the grocery store. I also buy non-perishable food items (that we’ll actually consume when hurricane season is over).

    In the situation you’re talking about, grab water, the dog, and go. But the thing to remember is that sometimes it’s more dangerous “out there” than it is in your house. You should have seen the freeway when Hurricane Rita hit. It looked like something out of one of those apocalypse movies. People were gridlocked on that freeway for HOURS in 100 degree heat. A bus full of senior citizens caught fire, and they all died. I wouldn’t have wanted to be up there.

    We have never evacuated, and I’m not sure we would unless death was imminent. My husband works for public utilities, and he has to be back at work as soon as the storm ends…or he’s fired. Because of that, we’d have to be very careful about where we evacuated to and be realistic about whether he can get back for work the next day.

    During Hurricane Ike, it was easy to get trapped. There was no gasoline to be bought in many gas stations, and, if you didn’t have cash, you were up doo doo creek. Food in stores was ruined because they could not keep it cool because the electricity was off. So we just braved it here at the casa. It was no biggie.

    But I do agree with you that it is important to know where your essential papers are (ID, birth certificates, marriage certificates), to have enough water, and to have a few cans of vienna sausages handy.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      LOL. I’m sure my hubster will agree, unless you have flood or fire, it’s usually better to shelter in place at your home. Good for you for making sure you have enough food and water to ride it out!


    • I do agree about sheltering in place. The 6 second scenario is a good drill to get you thinking about what you may need in any emergency. The most common disaster in every area and in every season is a house fire. That is what the 6 second scenario made for.


    • Catie, are you in the Panhandle? I’m in SW Florida. The year of Charley and Francis et al was when we got our reality check about perceived “safety”.


  7. K.B. Owen says:

    The first thing I thought was: “WHY am I standing naked in the middle of the living room?” LOL. I’d grab a raincoat, handbag, and SHOES (ever see that Die Hard movie where Bruce Willis is barefoot the whole time? Ouch).

    In our area about ten years ago, a man threatened to jump off the Woodrow Wilson bridge, during rush hour. Traffic backed up for miles. The unlucky people near the scene couldn’t be redirected, and were stuck in their cars for 5 HOURS. I had little kids (3 boys) at the time, and I thought about what I’d need to have in the car if that ever happened to us. Even though my oldest is 20 and living on his own, I still carry the following in my trunk: water, cereal bars, a blanket, a pack of cards, and a jar for…you know. 😉

    Our preparations for home have been the “shelter-in-place” type. We’re fortunate to have an underground basement. In the event of a tornado (very rare around here, thank goodness), all of our emergency supplies are down there. We have the usual: canned food, can opener, water, candles and lighters, firelogs, flashlights, batteries, radio…we also have chocolate, and wine. 🙂 We have an extra propane tank in the tool shed outside, to cook on the grill (and campfire pots and pans).

    More likely for us is a hurricane, which could knock out power for several days. Once, a hurricane knocked out the power at the water pumping/treatment facility (even though that has a back up generator). We had NO water coming from the faucets. We had our emergency drinking water, but how does one flush the toilets? I’m sorry, but I ain’t pouring Dasani down a toilet. We’d never lost water before so we didn’t think of it, but now I know why folks fill their bathtubs before a storm. What we did was get a big rubbermaid bin (this was after the storm had passed, and our dilemma had become painfully obvious) and fill it with ditch-water. We kept it outside on our porch, and drew buckets-ful from it for the toilets.

    Here’s a cool product, by the way, for filling your tub with clean water and having a tap to draw it with: I’m so tempted to get this. It’s a tub liner bag made of food-grade plastic, holds 100 gallons, and you use a tap and hose to draw water from it when you need it. Cool, huh?


  8. We have an emergency hurricane kit ready, but I know we’ve been stealing the bottled water out of it. Time to restock, especially since hurricane season starts this week. I know we’re good on batteries (just bought more yesterday, in fact) and we keep the cat carriers next to the emergency supplies in case we need to make a hasty exit.


    • Taking care of your pets in an emergency was one aspect that I had overlooked until I read about all the pets that were displaced in Hurricane Katrina. I then started prepping for our beloved Hoshi as well. Dog food, extra water, blankets. Thanks for sharing


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      LOL. Yep…water, batteries and candles…and FOOD. All hugely important and often overlooked. 🙂


  9. Phil says:

    The Mayor’s office here has always told us to have a Go-Bag ready but most of us ignore it. I guess I would grab my wallet, ID, bank stuff, etc. We are so unprepared here, as we saw with Hurricane Sandy!


  10. Sharla Rae says:

    The first thing I thought of was my Mini Mary (My Mac Air) but I do have a Quake backpack. We were told keep to keep it to to no more than 25 pounds. My husband had doubts I could carry this on my back but I proved him wrong. Got the, wind-up radio and flashlights, Silver blanket that I can use for warmths or to reflect the sun etc. Got a change of rugged clothes and shoes, water and dried food. Other stuff too. I do keep my thumb drives up to date so while I’d cry to leave it behind, I could leave Mini Mary at home. 🙂 One thing I didn’t think of the first time we had a forest fire near us, were the Insurance papers! I Repeat people, “Insurance Papers.” Even on a thumb drive–do it! It will save you a huge headache later.


    • Thank you Sharla for highlighting some excellent points. We have a safety deposit box that stores all of our important papers (mortgage; trust documents; insurance papers; birth / marriage certs; inventory of household goods and appliances) and a portable hard drive that has all of our family photos and other important information. I try to keep this synched every few months. Having the information and documents to get your life back together after a disaster is extremely important. If you watch some of the heartache after the recent tornadoes of people losing all their memories (pictures), you will know what I mean.


  11. Jess Witkins says:

    I’m pretty sure my honey isn’t going to want to carry my bin full of journals. And likewise, I wouldn’t want to carry one of his guitars. I’ll have to talk to him about this cause you have me seriously freaked. I’m with Renee on this one. At least I did have a G & G bag for the car during winter. Always keep a blanket and a shovel in there. That sounds bad knowing you’re not from up north. The blanket is to keep you warm should you be stranded in your car during the death of winter. And the shovel is to shovel your car out should you get snowed in. LOL


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      LOL. If you scanned your journals, or stored them offsite, this issue wouldn’t feel as scary. It’s likely you’d get a few journals and he’d get 1 guitar if you ever had to run. And they’d make each of you feel better.

      You’ll be happy to know I NEVER would have thought your blanket and shovel were for nefarious purposes. Although I could see you using that shovel to kill a spider…. 🙂


  12. Connie Crow says:

    Having lived through a couple of power-outage causing blizzards, we’ve stocked the house to shelter in place for up to three weeks. If you can’t get out and no one can get to you, you have to take care of yourself. Waterbob is great. We do have one. Remember, if you have a hot water tank, that water is usually clean and usable. Ours is a 60 gallon tank. It may not be hot, but it will be safe. Be sure to shut the inflow valve from the city line, if your city water has been compromised. I never leave the house without emergency supplies in the care. and I do have a small G&G bag to snatch if we do have to leave the house in a hurry. Yes, Insurance papers, etc.
    The government’s “Preparing for the Zombie Apocolypse” made me laugh, but it is a good emergency prepareness list.


  13. Wow, Jenny! Hubby wants to know how you knew I’m a closet nudist…LOL! 😉

    But seriously. I always have some kind of cotton shorts or pants within arm reach along with tshirts/sweatshirts (in the bedroom). As I showed you on Twitter, we always have plenty of water. Hurricane preparedness is hammered into my transplanted Floridian brain after our close call with Charley, Frances and company a few years ago. We have our dog food in a water resistant container that’s easy to carry. Our passports, marriage license, doggie medical records, insurance cards are in a plastic bag ready to be shoved into our “go” duffel should we need to. Yes, this includes a decent first aid kit. If we’re not able to leave we know to either put documents in either the dishwasher or washing machine as those are sealed and will protect against water damage. We also have copies of all our pertinent info in a safety deposit box in the bank in case of loss.

    We always have canned foods around for us should we be without power for long periods of time and we know that the most important thing (after water) to do when alerted to a hurricane potentially coming our way is to fill the cars and extra gas cans up just in case we need to run. Unlike tornado victims (which, having lived in Illinois, I’ve also experienced), we usually have several days warning which gives us a better opportunity for preparedness.

    We also know to take pictures of the externals and internals of the house just in case of hurricane so that we have something tangible in case we need it for insurance purposes. Both our vehicles are equipped with blankets, emergency kits, spare tires and jumper cables. Mine also has a baseball bat & hubby has golf clubs. Truth is, they can be used to play or defend yourself if needed.

    I’m glad you mentioned the gluten intolerance thing. I will be calling my step-dad in the next couple days and reminding him to put some things that he can eat in their hurricane kit. They’re new to Florida, so they’re still figuring all this stuff out.


  14. Jennifer says:

    Great post, Jenny. We have our Go bags, although it’s probably time to refresh them again. The last time I did that I took out one son’s size 6 underwear and replaced it with late-teenager size! 🙂 We’re pretty well prepared, including a generator because when we lived out in the country, we had a well, we were the last to get power restored after an outage, and I had a horse that drank 10-30 gallons of water a day. No electricity = no well pump = thirsty horse!

    But still, the first thing I would grab is my laptop. I back things up physically, and occasionally to the Cloud, but … my life and my work are there. No way am I leaving it behind!


  15. Julie Glover says:

    And this is why I live in hurricane country! I don’t need a 6-second grab-and-go bag. I need a plan for evacuation or hunkering down for 2-3 weeks while power is out. I think that next time we’ll just head to Catie’s house. 🙂

    It was interesting what I ended up taking when we evacuated for Hurricane Rita (yep, our 24-hour drive to Austin!!!). We took kitties and their food and litter boxes into the car with us; photo albums and a one-of-a-kind painting of hubby and me done by a friend as a wedding present in the trunk; and snacks and drinks for the road. When we went for Hurricane Ike, I took my laptop and, while away, started writing my first book. How’s that for disaster recovery?! 🙂


  16. Piper Bayard says:

    I have a question for hubby regarding water in the car. I’ve often heard that when water gets warm inside a plastic container, the chemicals in the plastic leach into it. That kind of thing gets really hot sitting out in the car in the summertime. What type of container does he recommend to prevent this?

    Thanks for your article. In the Rockies, we don’t have too much worry about hurricanes, tornados, or even earthquakes, but we do get some monster snow storms. It’s easy to get complacent during the summer and eat all of our canned food stores. Always good to be reminded that disasters can happen any time. If we could predict them, they wouldn’t be such disasters.


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