For many people being prepared means going out and buying a checklist of items that will come in handy if the need arises. While this is a good step in the right direction any experienced person will tell you that there is so much more to being truly prepared to survive.
In addition to having the right survival gear for your environment the other two sides of the survival pyramid are honing your survival skills and having a realistic plan for what to do when trouble comes knocking.
Building up your survival skillset can take years and unless you are at the camping store right now, the most immediately actionable element of the skills/gear/planning trinity is the last of these: Having a Bug-Out Plan. I am going to step you through the process of building your own Bug-Out Plan for you and your family (or whoever you plan on evacuating with) and by the end of this article you should have a clear understanding of:
- How To Pick A Meeting/Rally Point
- Identifying A Good Bug-Out Location
- Picking Routes To Your Destination
- How To Communicate Without Giving Away Your Intentions To Others
Establish a Rally Point
Imagine you are sitting at home with your family and there is a newsflash that a massive wildfire is heading your way. You guys decide the best thing to do is to evacuate. You grab your carefully packed Bug-Out Bags and head out the door to safety. Phew, that was easy!
Now imagine the same disaster occurs during the majority of your waking hours when you and your spouse are at your separate jobs and the kids are at school. What now? Should you go pick up the kids and meet your spouse at home? Should you all meet at the school? What if it isn’t safe at home?
Problems like these can easily snowball into a catastrophe for you and your loved ones. They can however be addressed as a part of your bug-out planning by choosing a Rally Point for everyone to meet at when disaster strikes.
A Rally Point can be anywhere that you will all be able to reach safely. It may be your home or a neighbor’s house. It can be a workplace, or centrally located landmark. If you have young children that can’t travel on their own it is probably a good idea to meet at their school.
The location of your Rally Point isn’t as important as what makes it a good meeting point. To pass this test your Rally Point should meet the following criteria:
1. Accessible By Everyone – Your Rally Point should be centrally located so that everyone can reach it in about the same amount of time. You do not want to be delayed waiting for a team member that has twice the distance to travel as everyone else. This doesn’t mean that it has to be in the exact center of your group, just try to not disadvantage anyone by making it way out of reach. Remember, if a disaster strikes there may be chaos. Travel times will increase. Making a Rally Point that is accessible to all party members will mean that the group can gather that much faster and begin your move to safety.
2. Highly Specific – It does not help if you reach what you think your Rally Point is and then have to waste time finding your party members within this area. Identify a specific location within your Rally Point such as a particular room or landmark. If you are meeting at your kids’ school pick a classroom or office that will be open and tell them to wait for you there. A real life example of this is when I lived in NYC, my family established a rally point at my cousin’s office at Columbia University where we would all meet if the time came. We did not say that we would just meet at the University, which spans several blocks, or even just at a particular building. We agreed to meet in her actual office so we would all know EXACTLY where to go, no uncertainty or time wasted.
So your party has assembled at your carefully picked Rally Point, now where are you going to go? Are you going to follow the masses and rely on the wisdom of the herd? To be best prepared you should premeditate at least one location to head towards when disaster strikes. Best practice however is to pick 2-4 locations to keep your options open. Ideally these locations will be in different directions. This allows you to pick the safest direction to move in and adds life saving flexibility to your Bug-Out Plan. If that wildfire we mentioned above were to be sweeping in from the north you could head to your bug-out location to the south for example. If you had only the one location in your plan and it was up north, all your careful planning would be for nothing. Make sure to have more than one destination to keep your plan going in the face of uncertainty.
A bug-out location can be many things. Some people go so far as to purchase property in an area that they perceive to be safe and build a house or shelter and stockpile supplies there. If they need to evacuate their primary residence they have everything they need to survive in their bug-out location. While this is good preparation (although a bit inflexible according to our example above) you do not need to go this far if you do not have the resources to do so. Other common bug-out destinations are:
- Friend’s house
- Family member’s home
- Camp ground
- State or National Park
- Vacation home
Once you have your bug-out locations picked it is wise to visit them periodically to make sure they remain accessible and able to shelter your bug-out party. Depending on the circumstances surrounding your locations it may be feasible to cache supplies and survival gear at them. This will allow you to reside there safely longer as well as lighten your bug-out bag’s load.
Choosing A Route
Determining your bug-out route follows a similar methodology to identifying your bug-out destination(s). Ideally you want to plan more than one route to wherever you will be headed. This way if a road becomes impassable or dangerous you can initiate route B and keep moving to safety.
You also want to assess your routes for modes of transport. Can you move along them both on foot and in a vehicle? Do you need an upgraded vehicle such as a 4WD to pass certain sections? What about in winter when there is snow or spring when trails become muddy? You may need to drive as far as you can and then hike the remainder. Whatever you choose, be prepared for change and be ready to adapt to the situation at hand.
Testing Your Routes
If at all possible you should try walking/driving your routes ahead of time. This allows you to judge their safety and feasibility. If during your test run you encounter an obstacle you can determine ahead of time if you can surmount it or need to find another way. Doing a dry run also helps you assess your ability to carry your bug-out bag over the terrain. If it is unrealistic to carry a your intended survival gear you may want to improve your fitness or pack less stuff.
It is not always possible to actually travel your planned bug-out routes. If this is the case you should at minimum do a “virtual hike” by zooming in as far as you can on Google Maps and following your route. This may help you identify the optimal route as well as any potential hazards in the way.
There are two main focuses of effective communication in a Bug-Out Plan. The first is for the members of your bug-out party to establish an alternate means of communication if the cell phone network is down. Will you be carrying walkie-talkies or radios? Do you plan on leaving notes and instructions for each other in designated areas? Think this out as a group and determine what works best in your environment. Being able to communicate if separated can mean the difference between life and death in an emergency and getting this squared away should be a priority.
The second focus should be a simple code system for effectively communicating some basic messages without giving away your intentions to outsiders. Here are some examples of phrases you would want to be able to communicate effectively:
- Initiate Bug-Out Plan
- I am safe
- I am in danger
- Use alternate route
- Use alternate destination
Picking code phrases for these should be simple and memorable. Don’t get caught up on finding something cool or military sounding. You can pick anything at all that you will be able to remember as a group.
Next Steps in Your Bug-Out Plan
Some additional steps to take to round out your Bug-Out Plan are:
- Make a list of emergency contacts for everyone in the bug-out party, make sure everyone has a copy of this.
- Do the same with contact information for emergency services and emergency broadcast channels in case you need to access these to get updated information on the situation as it develops.
- Compile photos of everyone in your bug-out party, copy these and hand them out to everyone. This is especially important if you are travelling with children. If you get separated it will greatly increase your chances of finding each other again if you and they have a picture to show searchers exactly who you are looking for.
- Periodically review your Bug-Out Plan as a team it as circumstances change. This should be an evolving document tailored to meet your changing needs.
- Copy and distribute your Bug-Out Plan to your every member of your party. It does no good if only one person knows where you are going and how you are getting there. If they get separated or incapacitated the whole party will be in trouble.
We hope that this article has been useful to you and that you now have the confidence to go out and build a Bug-Out Plan for yourself and your family. I am very grateful for the opportunity to interact with the Survival At Home Community and as a special thank you I am making available to you my custom Bug-Out Plan Template. This is a document that anyone can use to develop their own Bug-Out Plan. It lays out everything that I have outlined above into a nice, neat package that you can fill in, print out, and share among your bug-out party. To access the template simply click here or on the image below!