In Building a Bug Out Bag Part I we discussed why building a Bug Out Bag is important and what type of bag to select. In Part II we discussed the Transportation Items to consider, in Part III we explored Water preparedness, in Part IV we explored Food preparedness, and in Part V we tackled Shelter, Clothing and Protection from the elements for your Bug Out Bag. Today we’ll discuss Communications preparedness and the communications elements to consider while building a Bug Out Bag. Remember, this is your last ditch, carry on your back, walk away from trouble Bug Out Bag…not what you hope you can get to your bug out location if your car, SUV, or DUKW makes it.
Communications preparedness for your Bug Out Bag is about more than just reception and transmission but those are two key elements. Listed below are a number of ways that you can stay better informed about what’s going on in the world as you bug out as well as reach out and make contact with family members, members of your group and others. Note: A number of these options require spare batteries…plan accordingly.
Communications Plan: If your family has established a communications plan then carry a waterproof copy. Make sure it includes the contact information for key family and friends at the bug out location or out of state. Don’t trust that you’ll be able to get numbers, e-mail and addresses out of your cellphone. Here’s an article introducing a VERY BASIC Communications Plan.
Cellphone: Don’t count on it working…but you never know. Sometimes cell service works when landlines don’t and vice versa. I’ve got a little portable Solar Cell that will charge my cellphone on the run but I also carry an All-in-One Travel Charger that will charge off household or automotive (AC & DC) power…it’s the size of a car lighter. Also, remember that the text function of your phone may be working even if voice communication isn’t. Make sure your family knows to switch to text if voice communications break down. Additionally, if you are employed in law enforcement or emergency response you should acquire one of the ‘priority’ cellphone plans that are available for first responders. These ‘priority’ phones take precedence on the network even if they have to bump someone off who isn’t a first responder.
Whistle with lanyard: Use what you have or look at the Fox 40 or JetScream whistles. These are loud and usable in cold weather (they aren’t metal). Use for signaling members of your group by working out a series of codes (long blast, repeated short blasts, rising blast, etc.) or signaling for help from a passerby if you’re out of sight and need help. Whistle blasts carry much further than voice and take less energy to keep up over time if calling for help. Three blasts of a whistle is a universal signal for help. The lanyard is to put it over your head or attach it to your body so you don’t lose it.
Flashlight: There are other reasons to carry a flashlight besides communications, but I mention it in the communications section to highlight the fact that anytime you’re using a flashlight you are announcing to the world where you are. Use your flashlight for signaling at night but be aware that light can be seen a long way off, especially if the power’s out. Flashlight options include an old fashioned flashlight with spare batteries, a hand crank flashlight, a shake flashlight or an LED flashlight. LED flashlights eat fewer batteries and some are ‘keychain‘ size. Red Light Flashlights or filters can’t be seen as easily from a distance and will protect your night vision but they do make red features on your map tough to read. Tactical flashlight like the Surefire and Streamlight lines put out a lot of light (some strobe for defensive purposes as well) but often use specialized batteries. I love these lights but I want something that’s lightweight, uses the common AA battery, will last/light forever (like an LED light) and/or uses an alternative charger like cranking or shaking for my Bug Out Bag.
Portable Radio with weather band: There are hand crank portable radios available but the quality and weight varies a lot. Use to listen for weather reports, news and official announcements. Some of these also have USB chargers built in to charge your cellphone or GPS batteries.
Two Way Radios: If you’re an amateur radio operator/ HAM then you might want to carry a portable tranceiver as well. Walkie Talkies (FRS, GMRS) and portable CB’s are also options but add a weight and might prove to be of limited utility relative to the weight. Don’t believe the transmission distances advertised. HAM and certain GMRS usage requires licensing.
Lightstick: Cyalume lightsticks (one time use) or reuseable lightsticks are handy for marking turnoffs and the like at night but are really a ‘luxury’ Bug Out Bag item…I carry a couple in my car though.
Writing Supplies: Sometimes you just have to make or leave a note. I find the best tool for this is a Sharpie Permanent Marker because it will also write on most anything else…including skin (for making medical notes like ‘TOURNIQUET‘ written on the forehead if I have to apply one to limb for a casualty that is being taken to medical care). Other options are Crayon (waterproof and some brands are flammable for helping you light a fire) or a Sharkie which is also usable as a striking weapon. Paper should be kept inside two, sealed zip lock bags or if you don’t mind spending a little money buy waterproof paper or a Rite in the Rain notebook. Dry paper is an inefficient but easy to light tinder as well.
Signal Mirror: Signal mirrors are more of a wilderness survival item, but are capable of signaling a great distance under the right conditions and may be appropriate for your Bug Out Bag as well. Read more about using a signal mirror HERE.
Portable Emergency Scanner: If you have access through your occupation or if your local police and EMS still use unencrypted/unrestricted channels this would be a great source of information. Civilian use in vehicles is against the law in some areas so do your research before you include one…keep it legal.
Reflective Belt: I carry a reflective belt in my Bug Out Bag because I’ve built everything in my Bug Out Bag so as to be as unnoticeable as possible. If I’m forced to travel by foot in an area with lots of vehicle traffic…I might be more concerned about getting struck by a car than being invisible…gotta keep your options open as you don’t know what type of situation you’ll bugging out through.
Check back tomorrow for Building a Bug Out Bag – Part VII when we’ll discuss Security preparedness for your Bug Out Bag.