Paul Wellman

Gearing Up for Getting Out

Putting Together an Emergency Go-Bag for Disaster Readiness

If you and yours are anything like me and mine, perhaps you found yourself a bit unprepared as the Thomas Fire raged toward town. Fortunately, the whole of Santa Barbara could see it coming, affording us ample time to evacuate. For me and mine, that meant stuffing suitcases and duffel bags with clothes, loading doubled-up grocery bags with food and water, and gathering other essentials, namely pets, documents, hard drives, keys, and cash. We tossed it all in the trunk and peeled out before sundown — so as to not evacuate in the dark — and luckily found a safe home base for the following 10 days in an empty downtown cottage offered up by a friend.

We had made our emergency evacuation plan on the fly, which according to respected experts and everyday folk with sensible capacities for common sense, makes no sense at all. Hence my family’s New Year’s resolution: Get ready for the next inevitable emergency. That means it’s time to compile an emergency checklist and assemble appropriate go-bags. Prime examples of both can be found at VLES Designs (, founded by Karina and Stuart Warshaw, both former volunteer firefighters. “We designed … the bag we would want to have in an emergency situation,” said Stuart, adding that VLES stands for Very Logical Emergency Supplies. “The bag itself is strong and smart, [and] the contents … are logical and useful.”

By Courtesy Photo

The initial unzipping reveals the VLES bag — which measures roughly 22 inches tall, 14 inches wide, and 9 inches deep — as a well-stocked first-aid kit. A deeper unpacking produces plenty of extras, including two N95 face masks, a 12-in-1 multi-tool, duct tape, 25 feet of rope, packaged water and water-treatment tabs, waterproof matches, a rain poncho, a flashlight, a readiness playbook, and a radio/phone charger that runs on batteries, solar, or hand-crank, among many other features. Plus, there’s still room for personal items.

“You need [to include] what suits you,” said Mike Eliason, a public information officer with Santa Barbara County Fire Department. Whether you purchase a stocked go-bag or build your own, don’t forget important items, such as prescription medication, extra pairs of glasses or contact lenses, Santa Barbara roadmaps, and scans or copies of important family documents, for example, Eliason said. “It’s important to tailor it to your specific needs.”

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