When to Bug Out: Knowing the Signs

One of the largest concerns during a disaster situation is when to leave. Hurricanes, floods, chemical leaks, societal breakdowns and terrorist attacks – all  cause major evacuation disruptions in urban areas when too many people are trying to flee at the same time. We have seen this with such disasters as 9-1-1, Hurricane Katrina, and evacuations from mass wildfires.

While it is important to listen and keep up to date on the current status of a disaster, as a societal whole, we have placed far too much emphasis on the government telling us when the appropriate time to evacuate is. The needs and agendas of a local government are different than the citizens. Relying solely on the government’s ability to manage a crisis takes the power out of a person’s hands and places into a stranger’s hands (who may not have your best interests in mind). Many have forgotten this and rely only on a governmental body to tell them when they can leave. The bottom line is the action of packing up and evacuating rests in the evacuees hands; not the governments or the businesses telling the person they have to work until they believe it is time to leave. 

Don’t Be Another Statistic

In a situation where people are facing an evacuation order, time is precious. Typically, people are not ready, or to bug out. For that matter, when unpreparedness is coupled on the individual level and the local or federal level, it leads to breakdowns that can cause interruptions in emergency response, crime waves, and disturbances in recovery plans. 

During the evacuation of Hurricane Katrina, many state and local governments waited until the very last moment to issue an evacuation order, thus causing 1 million individuals to evacuate an area over hundreds of thousands of square miles in a 2-3 day time span. This caused nothing but mass chaos and unnecessary conflict. 

If one lives in an area where they could be prone to disasters, it is always the best bet to have the following ready:

  • A well defined preparedness plan with maps and alternative routes in place.  Don’t leave unless there is a plan in place.  A person who is prepared to leave and has a set destination in mind is more prepared than the person who is scrambling around their home trying to find items and not even thinking about what their emergency plan will be. 
  • Have an evacuation checklist on hand. This ensures that you have everything you need packed.
  • A 72 hour bag that is ready to go for the family as well as a bag for any pets. Make sure that you have the right types of food packed.
  • Leave as soon as possible.  Do not wait until they have opened up the contraflow lanes to evacuate.
  • Have some money set aside for an emergency.  Anticipate that ATM machines and banks will be closed.  Example: You finally get on the road and realize you are low on gas. All the banks and ATMs are closed.  In this scenario, once the gas runs out, you will be stuck  with no money for food, shelter or transportation.
  • Make sure the Bug Out Vehicle (BOV) is well maintained.  Having the proper items to keep it going can be of great value in a disaster situation.  Items such as an oil, extra tire, fix-a-flat, collapsible shovel, etc.

Knowledge is Critical

Knowledge is essential in any type of emergency evacuation scenario. Imagine how important it would be if  someone had the advantage of having the information to leave 3 hours before everyone else did. If they were already prepared and ready to go, it would be a huge advantage.

  • Awareness of the different advisory forms to get the most information. A person does not have to listen to the TV to get information. There are many types of emergency advisories: radio, police scanners, Internet, twitter, and even a cell phone disaster alert system to alert a person at the earliest time possible. This will give someone a heads up of what it to come.  
  • Know which station on the radio has Emergency Broadcast Stations.

Every minute is critical when bugging out. If a person is not prepared, then they are losing valuable time.  Using all known communication resources to get information and staying clued in will put a person at a greater advantage than those only listening to one type of communication form. Gathering information ahead of time of what the possible threat is (flood preparation, hurricane preparation, tornado, societal uprising, etc), and finding ways to avoid them will put a person in a better mind frame when they actually have to come head to head with the threat.   

Know The Signs

Waiting until an evacuation order is issued is considered too late for many people who consider themselves prepared.  Knowing the signs and acting on them is the key to bugging out at the best time.  If a person knows what to look for, they can prepare to leave ahead of the hoard of evacuees. 

Some signs include:

  • When people begin buying emergency food and water supplies.
  • Hearing the news sources talking about a possible threat is the time to begin preparing to leave.
  • Seeing long lines at the bank where people are withdrawing money is a sign that something is up.
  • Long gas lines is also an indicator of people beginning to prepare for a possible evacuation.
  • Increased military and police presence in the streets and the community.
  • Long lines at home improvement stores from poeple trying to buy supplies to prepare homes for disasters, buying generator needs, etc.

If a person is already prepared for such a disaster, they will not have to wait in lines full of stressed out people, not have to fight their way through a grocery store or get into a possible altercation trying to fill their cars with gas.  In times of crises, many are not prepared, and the stress levels are increased exorbitantly.  Everyone has one thing on their mind – getting supplies and getting out.  If a person already has their supplies in order, getting out ahead of everyone will put them at a greater advantage.

Consider the Dangers and Know the Threats

Knowing when to bug out solely depends upon the person and what they are trying to avoid.  It is better to be safe than sorry.  Obviously, evacuating in a high stress situation is absolutely the worst case scenario; yet, this tends to be the norm for many.  Many play into the illusion that bad things cannot happen to them, so why bothering in planning for it?  This mind frame is what leads to dangerous situations. 

Many who wait until the government suggests it is necessary to evacuate will have more of a chance of getting caught in mass chaos, be amongst unprepared and stressed out drivers, and possibly face bouts of crime.  Leaving at the wrong time can put a person and their family into jeopardy.  Seeing the signs and knowing when to bug out will play a pivotal role in evacuating safely.  Not to mention giving a person the advantage of having the right mind set, leaving quickly, and more importantly – safely




The Prepper's Blueprint

Tess Pennington is the author of The Prepper’s Blueprint, a comprehensive guide that uses real-life scenarios to help you prepare for any disaster. Because a crisis rarely stops with a triggering event the aftermath can spiral, having the capacity to cripple our normal ways of life. The well-rounded, multi-layered approach outlined in the Blueprint helps you make sense of a wide array of preparedness concepts through easily digestible action items and supply lists.

Tess is also the author of the highly rated Prepper’s Cookbook, which helps you to create a plan for stocking, organizing and maintaining a proper emergency food supply and includes over 300 recipes for nutritious, delicious, life-saving meals. 

Visit her web site at ReadyNutrition.com for an extensive compilation of free information on preparedness, homesteading, and healthy living.

This information has been made available by Ready Nutrition

Originally published January 10th, 2010
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8 Responses to When to Bug Out: Knowing the Signs

  1. ron says:

    Being un-prepared without knowlegde about where you intend to bug out is just the same as jumping from 1 fire to another. Have a plan ‘B’,’C’,’D’,’E’ along with gear to help make your misson successful. Being prepared before something happens. That could also mean keeping your “wits” about you not a semi-truck filled with stuff….
    A person or group may discover that backroads are the only way to point B which could be a problem if you have No Gas, Lowered Car, Washed out roads, or maybe
    some Thugs who think your stuff is theirs..for me being prepared means always being aware of things wherever i go…Being perpare is more a lifestlye in your everyday walk…

  2. Paul says:

    I would have alternative routes mapped out and not the main highways either. Then do a recon of the routes you’ve chosen in each season, what is doable in the summer might not be in the winter! As for money, I would start to stash away silver & gold coins of small sizes for easier use. Don’t expect to get any change back when you use them! Have a Bug-out Bag that is well stocked for at least a week of essential items! Periodically check and restock the bag too as things will expire. Have a gun & ammo (a bow set is also good) Make sure all members of your family or bug-out group know where to go, best if there is a meeting point where you can all get together before you travel. And above all DON’T be obvious with what you are doing! Don’t act nervous or agitated, try to pack your Bug-out vehicle at night when no one is around, and drive within the speed limits.
    Personally I would strongly recommend getting out of the cities now as they will very quickly turn into an area of mass chaos and mayhem! Remember that any city has at most 24 hours of food & water on hand at any given moment and when trouble comes that will disappear very rapidly, then all hell will break loose.

  3. teabag says:

    i must disagree with four of your indicators of when to bug out.  if i make crucial decisions based on seeing other people lining up at stores, etc, all i’m doing is letting others’ panic ignite my own.  around here (long island ny) people panic every time they hear that there’s unusual weather on the way!  and the forecasters often exaggerate just to keep viewers watching….anyway, your other two indicators make sense, which is what we all must use to make survival decisions.  thank you.

  4. Hi Paul,

    Great comment. I agree with you that media plays a hand at panicking the public more often than they should, but they do serve a purpose in informing mass groups. I believe that if and when you decide to bug out, you should take all of the suggestions provided above into account in order to make a good decision.

    1. Have a well defined plan and evacuation plan/route established.
    2. Inform yourself.
    3. Have situational awareness.

    Being observant of those around you is being situationally aware and something I consider a very important skill to possess. It teaches you to trust your instincts. 

    Using all of these tips when making the decision to bug out will help you determine what the best course of action is.

    Thanks again,


  5. Chimookman says:

    Another one, when you bug out, don’t dress tactical. First cop you see will try to disarm you. Dress warm in layers. Look sporty not pseudo-military, and keep a low profile.

  6. Lorenzo Poe says:

    Its not enough to have a plan, even a good plan. It must be practical and not depend upon the actions of others. I worked for a local delivery gas company in the NOLA area. Their plan was to keep supplying gas to stations until 24 hours before landfall then getting all their trucks out. The state police talked them into staying an additional 6 hours with the condition that the state police would then escort their trucks out of NOLA.. But then the refineries closed at 24 hours before landfall and the state police never showed up. Lost millions of dollars.

  7. gtrmen says:

    What happens if the town you live in has 3 stop lights and you already live in a Rural out of the way location?

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