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If You Had to Evacuate, What Would You Grab?

Droughtmap Sure, we've always had crazy tornadoes and such here in Central Texas, but the idea of hurried mass evacuations has always been something that happens somewhere else, like to people on the coast. NOT TODAY. Within 30 miles of my own home, hundreds of people have suddenly lost theirs. Over 300 homes were just lost to wildfires yesterday in Bastrop, Texas, and about 20 miles away, at least 25 more homes were lost in the Steiner Ranch subdivision of Austin.

We're having a historic drought– I don't think people realize how bad it is– and Tropical Storm Lee that we wish would have brought rain to us has instead brought high winds, making wildfires almost inevitable. (Click the image above to see a larger view of a current drought map… brown = "exceptional.")

September is National Preparedness Month, and that seems all too appropriate given the recent earthquake, Hurricane Irene, the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and now these Texas wildfires.

So take a minute and think about it– what would you grab if someone said you must leave your home immediately? Our local news showed footage of people packing up their cars with everything they could.

Take 10 minutes and make a list TODAY of what is important to you in this kind of emergency situation, and then figure out how to pull it together quickly if you had to do so. What would you do with your pets? Where would you stay? What would you pack in the car and why? Here are some thoughts I've had about this today:

  • Photo albums
  • Pet items and our dog and parakeet
  • Phone chargers and phones
  • Laptops and computers
  • Our PortaVault of important papers
  • Some financial files for our business
  • I keep thinking of more… What would you bring?

FEMA has a great checklist of what to do before evacuating for a wildfire here. For example, would you think to disconnect your garage door openers? Great idea if there is no power when you return. And is a comprehensive preparedness site that has multiple checklists and resources too.

Portavault Coincidentally just this past Thursday, we made as our September special in our shopping cart the Vital Records PortaVault, which has won awards from the SF Bay Area Red Cross and other associations for being the perfect product to gather all of your essential information for an emergency.  So it seems extremely relevant to tell you about that right now, since I am for sure going to be updating and checking mine! The PortaVault is a canvas binder with a water resistant case and a strap so you literally can grab it and go, including dividers and instructions for keeping all of your crucial documents together. We made it 20% off for National Preparedness Month (and members of our program get an extra 10% off). 

Overall, it's yet another reminder about what's important. As you are getting organized and making decisions about your stuff, ask yourself, "Would I grab this in the event of a fire? Is it really that crucial?"  From Bastrop resident Lisa Ross, quoted in a CNN story on the wildfires: "You learn what is valuable in life, and it isn't the stuff."

Have you ever had to evacuate your home? What did you learn? And what is an unusual thing that you might grab to take with you that we might not expect?  Share in the comments!

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I packed up the baby books in addition to the important documents and paperwork. I can always replace some of the older pictures but the earlier “baby” and hospital ones would be tough to do.


I would grab my external hard drives, since I have all my pictures on there, my passport, credit cards and the very old Dutch Family Bible. Some clothes, comfortable closed toe shoes/sneakers, a flashlight, chargers, camera and duvets and linen to sleep on incase of ending up in a shelter.


We have “go bags” packed in backpacks, one per family member. These contain a change of clothes, important documents and a flashdrive with copies of other documents, “survival” items like flashlight, sewing kit, work gloves, cash, personal toiletries and granola bars. In addition I’d want my Laptop,Cell phones and chargers,Photo albums,Medications(prescription and otc)Pet meds, and our dog. We keep the go bags packed for hurricanes, but of course they would work for any kind of evac. Prayers for the folks who had to evacuate today! -Molly


Great suggestions everyone! Thank you for sharing your own experiences and plans. You are helping me make my plan and I’m sure helping everyone else out there making their plans.


This summer when we were evacuated from the Wallow Fire in the mountains of eastern Arizona, I was amazed at what was truly important and what wasn’t. My criteria for what we took was based on ‘replace-ability’. I asked myself (on a scale of 1-10) how important it was or would be if I never saw it again. I then asked myself if it was replaceable. It’s amazing how many things (no matter how much I liked them) would be replaceable.
Included in some of the things we took were: important documents, external hard drive w/scanned pictures, family records, etc., essential survival items, and valuable/sentimental things, such as a clock that had belonged to my husband’s great grandfather. Anything that was replaceable (including our antique furniture) was left behind in hopes that we would return to our home still standing, which thankfully, we did. However, I tried to prepare for the worst (literally and emotionally) which helped me keep things in perspective as to what truly matters; our lives and loved ones being at the top of the list.

Debbie Balsam

We would take most of what other people have mentioned. In addition I would take my father in laws Katchina dolls that he made before passing away. I would also take some family heirlooms and antique books that I have. Of course lot depends on how you are leaving, by foot or by car and how much time you have.
I’m thinking more seriously about the 3 day backpack idea. In the last 2 weeks we have been through an earthquake, a hurricane, a tropical storm, flooding, and tornadoes. The Dismal Swamp is also a fire, but not close. Now watch a volcano will suddenly appear.


This has been on my “to do” list for way too long. However, yesterday I could not get back home due to severe flooding. Fortunately I keep a week’s worth of meds in the car. Unfortunately I had not updated them since the last two med changes. However, it kept me going. We could not reach our home for 24 hours but thankfully we could today.
I’m giving very serious thought to what I will pack in a plastic tub that is kept in my mini-van for a situation when we can’t get home.
That list will be somewhat different from what I would take if leaving my home but no less important.


I have to echo what people say about medication, and add that you need to have a system in place for keeping your meds dry and at the right temperature. If you’re diabetic and use insulin (I am and do), you might need a cool pack, especially if you also live in a climate with hot summers (again, I do). If you use a medication that’s anything other than a pill, you may also need to think about the supplies and delivery systems necessary for that medication. Insulin, for example, isn’t much good without a syringe, pen needles, or a pump– and if you use a pump, be prepared with needles and long-acting insulin anyway. Whatever your situation, ask your doctor for advice on what you must have. I also have a typed document detailing all my medical conditions and needs, my medical history (which is fairly complicated and extensive) and my medications. All of us might also consider packing some bottled water, a package of ziplock bags, nonperishable foods, sturdy shoes and socks, and items like that. I used to live in the city of Fort Worth, TX and they have a great training program about disaster preparedness. Many other cities do, too, and if yours doesn’t you can probably access some major city’s, or your state’s, guidelines online.


Jasmine, thank you so much for your detailed and thoughtful comment. You are right– there is so much more to consider when you have medications (for yourself or loved ones)that must be taken.


I would bring my “PortaValt” and some fresh water, oh and dog food for my dog! I already keep blankets in the car.


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