Living Columns & Blogs

Are you prepared for an emergency? What to know about making a ‘go bag’

Disasters, such as the recent fires in the West, hurricane warnings along the coast and tornado warnings in Pennsylvania, suggest that we should be ready to leave our homes on a moment’s notice in the event of an emergency.

The most important single thing to do is to discuss evacuation plans with everyone in the household. Where will you meet? How will you get there? Is there a person outside the area who can be a coordinator? Make sure everyone knows the answers to these questions. White them down and give everyone a copy.

Authorities suggest that we be ready to provide for ourselves for a period of at least three days in the event we need to evacuate quickly. According to, a Pennsylvania agency, the top 10 emergencies are floods, fires, winter storms, tropical storms, tornadoes and thunderstorms, epidemic/pandemic, hazardous materials incidents, earthquakes and landslides, nuclear threats, dam failures and terrorism. While every single possible emergency may not realistically apply to Centre County, the folks in Paradise, California, may not have expected the devastating fire that recently occurred there. Moreover, according to Accuweather, in a normal year 16 tornadoes touch down in Pennsylvania, and according to the National Weather Service, during the first five months of 2019, there have already been 20 touchdowns.

Most agencies recommend that for each person in the household, the following items be kept together in a place that can be accessed quickly in the event of an emergency:

Per person:

•3 gallons of water

•Food for three days

•A blanket and pillow

•A change of seasonal clothing

•Contacts information including out of area person to act as coordinator

For each family:

•Tools — Swiss army knife, cellphone, flashlights, extra batteries, a manual can opener and weather radio (crank operated if possible)

•Cash, coins and documents (medical insurance cards, government-issued photo ID, living will and/or medical power of attorney)

•First aid supplies and any prescribed medications (including a list including dosage, and don’t forget glasses prescriptions)

•Extra keys (house and car)

•Moist towelettes and garbage bags

•Toilet articles including contact lens solution if used

•Books, toys and games

Seniors, and persons with special needs have their own unique requirements for emergency preparedness. For example, the American Red Cross recommends 7 days of medications. Those with mobility issues need to be prepared for reduced or very little assistance. An evacuation plan should include arrangements for service animals. Here are some other unique “go bag” items:

•Food for special needs diet

•Batteries if needed for wheelchair, hearing aid, etc., plus spares

•A list of model and serial number of medical devices

•Special supplies (oxygen, catheters, insulin, etc.)

•Personal sanitary items

•Other assistive devices including cognitive

•Service animal supplies

Children also have unique requirements:

•Formula, disposable bottles

•Diapers and Wipes

•Medicine, thermometer, medicine dropper and spoon

•Prescription copies

•Authorization to consent to treatment of minor

As a part of any emergency plan, all family members should have a common evacuation meeting place nearby but out of the neighborhood and common emergency contacts located outside the area.

What happens, however, if there is more than a few minutes to stage an evacuation? It is probably a good idea to have an inventory of important items as well as their locations. In the event of an emergency, we all may not be thinking clearly, thus family photographs, family history papers, jewelry, prioritized according to available time. Since it is possible to replace a missing birth certificate, marriage license or Social Security card, it is not worth risking your life to find these, but as anyone who has recently applied for a Real ID card from PennDOT knows, it is much easier to have the documents than to replace them. This also applies to insurance policies, so if you have recorded their location and there is time, you can grab them.

If you make a list now, before an impending disaster, you will be able to plan ahead in making plans, filling your go bag and preparing an inventory, which can be modified as you think of new things. The items should be listed in rank order, so more important items can be saved first. Finally, it is important to list the location everything, since you may be dealing with some calamity or threat of a disaster when you are leaving, or someone else in the family may be using your list.

Amos Goodall is certified as an elder law attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. He has an LL.M. in elder law (with distinction) from Stetson College of Law, and he practices in State College.