David and Lisa S. live in Colorado. Their home sits on a hillside overlooking the St. Vrain River… green rolling hillsides… and the highway connecting them to civilization.
Around 2 a.m. one morning, they awoke to sirens blaring. Their phone rang with a reverse emergency call telling them to seek safety.
A voice boomed through the emergency system speakers in the valley:
“Impending flood,” it warned. “Seek higher ground immediately.”
Yet, David and Lisa remained calm.
“I got up with the sirens, looked at the valley and figured we were on high enough ground.” David said.
But less than five hours later, the family awoke to view of “total devastation,” according to David. The St. Vrain River was an angry, white-capped monster…
“The whole valley had turned into a raging rapid with debris, propane tanks, whole trees, a refrigerator, a big roof of a house just floating by. Houses were under water.”
Chunks of the road below their home were gone. Washed away by the swollen river. To make matters worse, their home had no power, no phone, no internet.
At this point David decided to leave Lisa and their children to walk two miles to the nearest town. But, David couldn’t even make it off the hillside.
So for the next 24 hours, David and Lisa took turns sleeping, and monitoring the rising water. Finally, the family made the decision to hike out of the valley.
Thankfully, they managed to scramble to the evacuation zone in town. From there, rescuers transported them to a nearby shelter to ride out the flood.
Now, I won’t second-guess David and Lisa’s decision not to evacuate when they first heard the sirens going off… their grown adults and can choose what to do.
But, it raises an important question: Is it better to bug out and get mobile during a disaster, or hunker down and shelter in place?
Obviously, a major factor in the decision will be the type and severity of the disaster you face. But, here are a few more factors to think about when deciding to leave or stay.
Evacuation Routes: You likely have a “normal” route you take when you leave your home. But, do you have a way to check the conditions of this specific road?
Ideally, you should map out multiple bug-out routes. And have ways to check the accessibility of each before deciding on the best one.
Secure Entrances: There is no point is staying home if you are unable to secure your house or bunker. If one of your entrances is exposed with no way to defend it, then you are better off getting out of dodge.
Or if the emergency is so close that it blocks an entrance or exit – for instance, a wildfire – you probably don’t want to stay.
Working Back-Ups: Most people who plan to hunker down have a generator for minimal back up power. But, generators can and have failed during emergencies.
So, before it’s too late to leave, fire up your generator to ensure it’s working and that you have enough fuel to survive. And, always have more than one generator. (Gas, propane, solar.)
Communications: If communications are down, it’s a sign the disaster has had far-reaching effects. If you can’t get information via television, phone, or radio, you need to connect with another human being.
If you live in a more rural area, make sure you and your neighbors have Baofeng radios to talk to one another.
Emergency Services: During a disaster, police and fire may not be able to respond to calls for service. You need to know whether they are still even active in any meaningful way.
Consider, when was the last time you spoke to or even saw a first responder? If they are unable to help, or worse, have evacuated town, you probably should as well.
Utilities: Are your power, sewer, and gas still functioning? If the answer is no, you need to see if you can communicate with the “outside world” to see if there are utilities elsewhere.
If so, head that way. If not, just hunker down.
Bottom line, you need to prepare to hunker down or bug out as necessary during an emergency. In other words, you need to be versatile.