Don’t think you need an emergency kit? Think again, say families who needed one.
Article by Ryan Rentschler of the Public Information Desk for the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the USA
Jolted awake at 3 a.m. by a neighbor’s urgent knocking, Aaron and Jacqueline Pate were greeted by a horrifying sight — flames encroached on their neighborhood amid thick smoke and ash from the wildfire that had been miles away when they went to bed.
“We grabbed the go bags, the kids, the dog and got in our cars and left,” said Aaron, of the fast-moving Woolsey fire that burned to within 100 feet of their Westlake Village, California, home in 2018.
It was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire season the state has on record, but it’s been followed by record-setting hurricanes, winter storms, and other extreme and abnormal weather events in one place after another. Experts expect that such natural disasters will only become more frequent.
“Having a personal preparedness plan increases your chances of staying safe,” according to a training program from the Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness. Having supplies ready to go, it says, is one of the steps that provides “resilience to all types of emergencies.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends collecting what everyone in the household needs to survive for several days along with important documents into an easy-to-carry kit, often called a go bag.
The Pate family saw the value of these preparations. “Because we had go bags, we weren’t running around trying to pack things at the last minute,” said Jacqueline. “We had the time we needed to comfort our kids and get everyone safely into the car.”
The Pates credited the disaster-preparedness help they received as Jehovah’s Witnesses, both through periodic reminders at their congregation meetings and from tips for putting together go bags on the organization’s website, www.jw.org.
“Life is precious, so we encourage all to heed the Bible’s advice to take practical steps to protect ourselves from danger,” said Robert Hendriks III, spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States.
According to Dustin and Hillary Smith, having a go bag is essential where they live in Onancock, Virginia, an area on the Eastern Shore that is vulnerable to flooding. “These storms happen so quickly,” said Dustin. “We want to feel ready and not panicked.”
Referring to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, Hillary said if they had to evacuate that “there’s only one way out if the tunnel is closed.” With multiple factors to consider during an approaching storm, the Smiths see the benefit in planning ahead. “A prepared go bag is vital to getting away quickly. And inevitably, you can forget things when your mind is racing,” said Hillary. “We also value life, so we want to be safe and help our neighbors to be safe too.” Dustin added, “having a go bag ready also prevents injuries since rushing around can make even common activities unsafe.”
The Smiths said they check their go bags throughout the year and again before hurricane season to ensure their food and water supplies are stocked and fresh.
Go bags also have proven useful in the opposite circumstances as “stay bags.”
When February’s Winter Storm Uri left millions of Texans without heat, electricity, and running water, many go bags there saw their first-ever use outside of hurricane season.
Northwest Houston residents Dan and Rhiannon Muey’s advance preparation enabled them to shelter in place for days, even as many in their area braved treacherous road conditions to scour barren store shelves for supplies.
“Our hurricane ‘go bags’ became our winter storm ‘stay bags,’ but we were so glad we had them,” said Dan. “Instead of waiting in lines for hours to get basics like drinking water, we already had what we needed.”
Emergency kits provide not just practical but emotional value as well.
Lake Charles, Louisiana, residents Matthew and Daisy Gauthier regularly sit down with daughters Madison, 17, and Sadie, 15, to review and replenish the family’s emergency supplies. “We don’t look at it as a chore,” said Matthew. “It’s quality time we can spend together. We look over jw.org‘s list of suggested items, and if we’re missing something, we add it.”
The Gauthiers’ efforts paid off last August, relieving stress as they prepared to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Laura.
“If we hadn’t already packed our go bags, I would’ve been scrambling,” said Daisy. “My mom would’ve been running around the house in tears,” affirmed Madison.
Being prepared meant the Gauthier family could leave the area before the evacuation order was issued. “Having our go bags allowed us to act faster,” said Matthew. “If we had to start from scratch and say, ‘OK, we need this, we need that,’ it would’ve slowed us down a lot.”
Two days later, Laura made landfall as a deadly Category 4 storm with the strongest hurricane winds recorded in Louisiana in over 150 years.
Another Lake Charles family, the Rinis, returned after the storm to find that their go bags had unexpected post-storm practicality.
“Our neighborhood looked like a scene from a disaster movie,” said Cullen, 13, of the splintered trees and mangled electrical towers the family passed on their drive home.
The Rinis’ property sustained only minor damage. Still, with no power or water and days of cleanup ahead, the family made immediate use of their emergency supply kit. “We questioned including many of those items when we first packed them,” admitted mom Ashley. “But within the first 36 hours, we used over half of our go bags’ contents: cash for gas, a flashlight, duct tape, matches, bug spray, water, extra clothes, batteries, and so many other things.”
Today, these ‘ready bags’ occupy a place of honor in the Rini home: their own shelf by the door. To anyone who has not yet assembled a go bag, 10-year-old Arden solemnly said: “You might not think you need one, but trust me—you really do!”
Disaster-preparedness suggestions and tips for putting together a go bag are available from FEMA at ready.gov and from Jehovah’s Witnesses at https://www.jw.org/en/library/magazines/awake-no5-2017-october/disaster-steps-that-can-save-lives/.