In prepper-speak, bugging out is leaving where you currently are (work, home, etc.) and going to a predetermined location, possibly for good. It’s also called Getting Out Of Dodge. There is a lot of information out there about putting together a Bug Out Bag, a collection of useful supplies that will help you get to your bug out location. But there’s very little out there about when and how to actually bug out.
Why bug out
I am a big proponent of bugging IN when you can. If you can make your home sustainable and/or put up food storage, staying in a familiar location will lessen the stress you have immensely. Not to mention that you’ll avoid the chaos and gridlock of mass evacuations.
However, there are many reasons that bugging in isn’t your best option depending on where you live and what your needs are. Things like wildfires, floods, chemical spills, or nuclear accidents can happen anywhere, and so you may need to evacuate your bug-in home.
If you live in a big city, you have some serious disadvantages in major crises. High population density means disease and panic are easily transmitted. Major cities are targets for enemies. Because most cities have people packed in, spaces are smaller and there’s little room for storing or growing food. You also will be more likely to have to deal with riots and looting.
Even if you are lucky enough to live in your bug out location, if you’re not home when a disaster strikes you may have to bug out from work or wherever to get home. Knowing when to leave is the key to getting home before the crowds hit the road.
When to bug out
Let’s talk about what sorts of things would trigger a bug out. Short-term or localized emergencies are the easy bug-out triggers to identify. Typically it’s clear from the start that you’re going to have to leave. The fires in California or flooding in Louisiana are prime examples. If you get an evacuation order, you will need to head out quickly. Sometimes you may have mere minutes, but in this kind of evacuation you’ll likely have anywhere from a couple hours’ to a couple days’ warning.
Longer-term or more generalized things that might trigger a bug out are harder to identify. Some things that might make you head for the hills are civil unrest, pandemics, economic collapse, and war. They’re harder to pin down as triggers to leave your current area. When does a bad day on the stock market turn into economic collapse so bad that staying in your home and job are no longer options? When does this year’s flu start killing enough people that the media starts talking about it and you know that quarantining yourself is the better option than hoping your flu shot holds?
That’s a hard decision to make and it’s going to be contextual to what’s going on and specific to your family’s needs. There are signs that things are majorly bad. Long lines – at the gas station, at the grocery store, at the bank – are one hint. This may be sudden, such as in a run on a bank, or it may be something where life has adjusted so slowly that we hardly noticed.
Another clue is when it’s impossible to get staples like flour, sugar, new tires, or batteries. We might see the number of people in the office dwindling because so many people are out sick. The news might have stories about how the ice sheets could let go any moment and you live on the Eastern shore. You really have to be heads up about what’s going on around you and decide for yourself when it’s time to go.
What is the fallout to bugging out?
It can feel silly to pack up your life and get the heck out of town when none of your neighbors thinks there’s an issue. If you’re wrong about the severity of the crisis there can be real consequences to bugging out. If you decide to go, you might have to walk out of your job and your boss may not like it. Choosing to leave could cost you your job. If you’re bugging out with other people like your spouse and kids or a prepper team, triggering a bug out when things aren’t dire can cost you in trust and respect. Everyone knows the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf.
You may also trigger a panic if you bug out unnecessarily. You and your neighbor may have chatted over the fence about how bad things were getting. He sees you loading up in a hurry. He thinks, “Jane & Tom are smart and if they think it’s time to get out of Dodge then things must be bad!” Then he calls his wife and his brother, who call their families, all in strictest confidence of course. All of a sudden, you have a wave of people trying to leave all because you got jumpy.
That said, if you really feel it’s time to go, don’t hesitate. Just go. You can deal with the fall out later. Sometimes you have to trust your best judgment. Sometimes things resolve themselves in ways we don’t expect. Besides, wouldn’t you rather that the situation isn’t as dire as it looked after all?
Where would you go?
The next factor you have to think about is where will you go? We have two locations, one about an hour away and another about six hours away. No, that doesn’t mean that we’re rich enough to own land in multiple states! We have friends and family who’ve agreed to let us come should there be an emergency.
For short-term and localized problems we’ll go to the closer location. It’s also a place for Mr. WPW and I to rendezvous if he’s on his way back from work and I can’t stay in the house. Then we can decide what to do from there. Our friend’s house is also his first stop should he have to bug out from work and he’s not able to get all the way home in one trip.
The other location is if something massive happens to our area that makes it uninhabitable. That’s a relative further away. We even have a third location at another relative’s home that’s halfway across the country in case of something completely unpredictable.
You may want to make similar arrangements with friends or family. You may want to buy property somewhere. Maybe you even want to build a home or a bunker out in the middle of nowhere. The friends and family method is your best bet if you don’t have the money for your own get away spot.
(SIDE NOTE: Please make sure that you do two things if you’re going to someone else’s home. First, TALK to them about it. Don’t show up unannounced. Second, bring your own food/toiletries/etc. You don’t want to be a burden on resources that may already be strained due to a crisis.)
How to bug out
So, you see things are getting bad, and you’ve decided it’s time to go. What do you do first?
- Don’t panic – stay calm. If you need to, take a few deep breaths and get your emotions under control. Fear will make you do reckless things, forget important pieces of your plan, and make poor choices.
- Make the decision – decide you’re going and go. Don’t second-guess yourself. You can always clean up the mess left by your leaving later.
- Grab your bug out checklist – this has a list of everything you need to take, all the people you need to contact, all the places you need to go
- Put your checklist in a plastic sleeve, attach grease pen and check off
- Attach a couple hundred dollars in small bills for getting gas or food along the way
- If you have a cache along the way (some people have storage facilities or stuff in a friend’s basement along their bug out route) that requires it, have a key to the location attached to your checklist
- Include the address, maps, and directions to your bug out location. Even if you know how to get there, having these will come in handy if routes are blocked.
- Turn on the news – get the most up to date information while you work. NOTE: do NOT let the news be a distraction. You’re getting information, not gawking at whatever’s going on. Don’t let yourself stop moving to listen to the news.
- Charge your devices – plug in your phones, tablets, laptops, etc. while you get everything together.
- Communicate, Part I
- Let your bug out team (whether it’s your prepper group, or just you and spouse, etc.) know that it’s time to go. Make sure everyone’s on the same page. If communications are down, have prearranged signals to show you’ve bugged out. This can be as simple as a note on the fridge, or as subtle as moving the garden gnome from one side of the walk to the other.
- Codes – many people don’t want to say things in the clear so that they don’t start a panic or give away their plans. You can talk about how it’s time for that visit to grandma the kids have been asking for, or the hunting retreat you’ve been wanting. Just make sure that everyone knows what your code means. You can even have different codes for different locations.
- Meet up
- Have someone designated to pick up the kids. Make sure that person has the address of the school(s) and that the schools know that person is authorized to pick them up. Give that person a code word that tells the kids this is important. (We had a code word that said my parents sent the person in case they were unable to leave. This was important as my dad was in the Army and may not have been able to leave his post. If something made it so Mom couldn’t come get us she could send someone she trusted).
- Have someone designated to pick up mobility-challenged members of your group. This could include parents or grandparents who may be in an assisted-living facility or someone who recently broke their leg and can’t drive.
- You should have decided in advance where your rendezvous spot is and how long you’ll wait for people, depending on the situation.
- Grab your bug out bag – this should be ready to go with everything you’ll need for either 72 hours, or the length of time to get to your bug-out location, whichever is longer. Make sure you can walk with it, though, in case you can’t take the car for some reason (highways are clogged, cars aren’t working, gas stations are out of gas).
- Load up the pets
- Get the animals in carriers. Make sure you have a carrier for each animal. I’d recommend the hard carriers as you could stack them if needed. Dogs, especially big dogs, may not need a carrier to travel. However, having a crate or carrier for them is a good idea. It keeps them confined so they don’t get out in unfamiliar areas, don’t scare any law enforcement that may be directing evacuations (and therefore get shot by said law enforcement), and gives them a space in which they can feel secure.
- Pet bug out bags – just like yours, with food, medicines, papers, etc.
- Include copies of their licenses, vaccination records and photographs of your pets and you with your pets (will prove your ownership)
- Livestock – figure out what you’re going to do about any livestock you may have. If you think you’ll be back in a couple days, maybe you can just put down some extra hay and be fine. However, if you think you’re not coming back what will you do?
- Grab your docs – you should have a binder or folder with all these items so you can just grab them in one go. It’s a good idea to keep these copies in your bug out bug, but have the originals easy to grab.
- ID – Have photo IDs for all members of your party. You may need ID to get through checkpoints, and you may only be allowed into your home state or neighborhood if your ID shows your home address.
- Photos of each person – good to help identify lost or missing members of your party. Also if you have group or family photos you can prove you’re together (like a parent with kids).
- Copy of deed if you’re bugging out to property out of state, or some sort of evidence of your relative’s address if you’re going to family, etc.
- Medical/health records
- List of emergency contacts’ phone numbers, addresses
- List of government agencies’ contact numbers (your local CERT team, FEMA, your local emergency management department, local fire department, etc.)
- Insurance policy documents along with company contact phone number
- Any checkbooks, credit cards, or other important financial documents
- Weapons – It’s a very personal choice as to what, if any, weapons you chose to carry with you. Be sure you know your route and the laws of the jurisdictions you’ll be going through. Note that weapons don’t have to be firearms. They can be anything that you use to protect yourself. Be aware that law enforcement may confiscate any weapons you have if there are checkpoints or searches.
- If you have time, grab extra supplies, food, or clothes. If you have time and room left in your vehicle(s), load ‘em up!
- Communicate, part II
- If there’s time, call ahead to bug out location or relative or hotel
- If a neighbor you trust is staying, let them know you’re going so they can keep an eye on your house.
- Count noses – make sure you have everyone before you leave.
- Set the alarm for the house if you have one. This may not do anything to keep your home safer, but you’ll at least be able to tell if someone got into your house while you were gone.
- Stop and get gas
- Fill your tank
- Get extra gas cans if possible and fill them
- Do it – hit the road and don’t look back.
I know this was a long post. Thanks for sticking it out with me. I hope it was informative and useful to you. With any luck, you’ll never need to use the information. But, if you do you’ll have a plan of action!