How to Prepare to Bug In - Ultimate Checklist

May 22, 2020

Let's walk through how to prepare to bug in using simple checklists to make things easy. We'll touch on important topics such as water, food, medical, and security - as well as some less talked about topics including sanitation, documents and information, and passing the time.

A special note as of February 2020 - Coronavirus

There are currently 77,813 confirmed cases of the Coronavirus (COVID19) across the globe. 20,000 of those have recovered, 2,360 people have died, and 1,525 of those cases are outside China. That means approximately 75,000 people are currently bugging in inside of China alone. In coming weeks as the virus is likely to spread to other countries, we may see that number increase dramatically. Are you prepared to self-quarantine for at least 14 days?

A household checklist is a perfect place to start preparing to bug in. Each person's situation is unique and depends on family, friends, location, health, and other factors. Consider creating a checklist for each of the following scenarios. Always prepare for the most likely situations first. All of these checklists are based on the premise that you already have at least 2 weeks of water and food at home, and have emergency funds available in cash on hand.

Print out your checklists, and put them in an easily retrievable location. Everyone in your family/group should know the location and know to get started if you aren't there. Keep a flashlight, pen, and extra paper with these lists.

Reasons to bug in

  • Financial Hardship
  • Economic Collapse
  • Power Grid Failure
  • Cyber Attacks
  • War and Terrorism
  • Resource Depletion
  • Epidemic/Pandemic
  • Natural Disasters
  • Crime, Violence, Civil Unrest, Riots

Financial Hardship

This sounds boring, but it is 100% the most likely situation you need to prepare for. A nuclear war or cyber attack may seem more dangerous, but losing your job, medical insurance, housing, and transportation will be just as deadly. Read more about how to prepare for financial hardship

Economic Collapse

Stock market collapse, devaluation of currency, and hyperinflation can all be signs of coming or present economic collapse. An example of a checklist for economic collapse might be

  1. Speak with financial advisor
  2. Contact family members
  3. Fill vehicles and extra gas cans
  4. Go grocery shopping
  5. Withdraw funds from bank accounts, retrieve valuables from safety deposit boxes
  6. Contact your workplace for information
  7. Cancel subscription services/monthly expenditures
  8. Attempt to make last minute orders for essentials online

Power Grid Failure

Power outages can be caused by any number of events including natural disasters, cyber attacks, terrorist attacks, civil unrest, and war. Here is an example of a checklist for when the power goes out.

  1. Assess the situation, determine the duration of the power outage
    1. Check circuit breakers
    2. Call power company
    3. Check social media, contact friends
  2. Distribute light sources to family
  3. Disconnect sensitive electronics and appliances from power outlets
  4. Check other utilities including water and gas
    1. If the gas is out, shut off the supply to house to prevent fires when it is turned back on
    2. If water is out, conserve water carefully
  5. Contact family members not present (cell towers may be down)
  6. Set a timer for 12 hours, at 12 hours turn on generator and plug-in refrigerator. Run in shifts of 20-30 minutes every 4 hours
  7. Check on neighbors, especially elderly or sick
  8. Set out solar panels to charge batteries

Cyber Attack

We live in a time when cyber attacks are becoming more common. In addition to the internet itself, critical infrastructure such as water, power, gas, sewage, and transportation are all connected with computers. Any of these systems could be targeted and attacked causing short or long term outages. Here is an example of a checklist for when a cyber attack happens.

  1. Assess the situation, attempt to determine affected systems and duration
    1. Contact friends, family, neighbors, utility companies
    2. Turn on radio (FM and amateur)
    3. Use social media - identify groups in advance(reddit, facebook, nextdoor, etc)
  2. If power is out, see power grid failure checklist
  3. If the gas is out, shut off the supply to house to prevent fires when it is turned back on
  4. If water is likely to be affected, fill extra containers and conserve water
  5. Disconnect internet gateway and router until it is determined local networks are safe from attack
  6. Contact any family or group members not present (cell towers may be unavailable)
  7. Go grocery shopping
  8. Fill vehicles and extra gas cans
  9. Check on neighbors, especially the elderly and sick

War and Terrorism

Here is an example of a checklist for what to do if war breaks out

  1. Reduce visibility if under direct attack. Shut lights off, cover vehicles, gather in safe room
  2. Assess the situation, is bugging in the best choice, or should you attempt to flee
    1. Contact family, friends, use social media
    2. Turn on radio (FM and amateur)
  3. If nuclear or biological weapons used, retrieve safety equipment
  4. Withdraw funds from bank accounts, retrieve valuables from safety deposit boxes
  5. Grocery shopping
  6. Fill vehicles and extra gas cans
  7. Check utilities
    1. Unplug critical electronics to protect from surges. Consider unplugging appliances to reduce risk
    2. Fill extra water containers
    3. If gas is out, shut off supply to house to prevent fires when service is returned
    4. If power is out, read through the power grid failure checklist
  8. Check with neighbors, especially elderly and sick. Set up a regular meeting time with neighbors. Share radio channels/frequencies for emergencies.
  9. Record any events and details of enemy movements to provide to local authorities

Resource Depletion

Resource depletion can be a complex topic to prepare for, and is unlikely to be an immediate event. By this I mean that there will be signs of it happening, and a resource won't magically disappear one day. For that reason, I do not have a checklist.


As of February 2020, we are facing a global pandemic of the Coronavirus COVID19. Here is an example checklist for when a pandemic starts or reaches your area.

  1. Contact your workplace for information or to arrange leave/vacation
  2. Buy extra regular consumables. Pandemics are likely to affect supply chains. Consider online orders to avoid human contact
  3. Prepare for self-quarantine for the indicated period by the authorities. COVID19 has an incubation period of at least 14 days. Shop for or order enough food for 14 days
  4. Prepare quarantine area within your home for anyone who may get sick or arrive sick
  5. Organize water, food, and medical supplies for self-treatment
  6. Take vitals twice daily, noting any changes in temperature or symptoms
  7. Clean surfaces regularly with anti-bacterial cleaner, especially after entering/leaving the residence

Natural Disasters

Natural disasters come in many forms. Consider having a checklist for each that is possible for your location. This is a general checklist that may apply to each, be sure to review carefully and add any that may be specific for your situation.

  1. Assess situation carefully; many natural disasters warrant leaving the area (bugging out)
  2. Shut off gas supply to your house and work with neighbors to do the same for them
  3. Shut off circuit breakers especially when flooding has occurred
  4. Plug sewage drains to prevent backflow/overflow
  5. Put on protective clothing including quality boots, gloves, safety hat, and long pants
  6. Check on neighbors especially the elderly and sick
  7. Generally read through the Power Grid Failure checklist - unplug electronics, pass out light sources, get communications, etc

Crime, Violence, Civil Unrest, Riots

General civilian unrest can be caused by any number of things. If you're looking to stay out of the way of these groups and situations, here is an example of a checklist for when civil unrest breaks out.

  1. Reduce visual signature. Turn off lights, gather in central, safe rooms. If not at home, enter a building and get above the second story (out of throwing range).
  2. Avoid travel. Use back roads if necessary.
  3. Increase self-protection loadout and keep items more readily accessible than normal
  4. Put on protective clothing and good footwear
  5. Establish communication with family, friends, and neighbors
  6. Barricade entrances/exits

Water is the first item on our list of preparations for good reason - we can't go long without it, especially under stress! The general rule for water is to have 1 gallon, per person, per day. This will include both water for drinking and sanitization.

How much water to have for bugging in

Your first goal will be to have water for everyone in your household for 3 days. The long term goal will be 2 weeks (note: February 2020, Coronavirus quarantine is 14 days).

How to store water for bugging in

  • (Free) Clean and reuse drink container such as milk and juice
  • (~$35) Waterbob - a plastic liner for your bathtub
  • ($10 - 40) Water containers - Be sure to get one with a spigot for easy use
  • (Free - $$$) Rainwater barrels or tanks
  • (Free) Water stored in your hot water heater tank
  • (Free) Water stored in the tanks of your toilets
  • (Free) Water held inside hoses and sprinkler lines
  • ($10-$100) Water filter (I recommend the Sawyer Mini)

Other water considerations

If water from the utility stops, your toilets will not flush. You'll need to add water from your reserves to the tank to facilitate the flushing process. Consider using rainwater since this does not need to be clean water.

Do not let dirty dishes sit for long, this can cause unsafe conditions where sickness can spread. Read more in the Sanitation section below

Food preparations for bugging in should closely match water preparations. You don't need 3 months of food if you don't have any water!

What food to buy for bugging in

The best way to prepare food for bugging in is to buy extra of what you already eat regularly. Buying a ton of canned food, MREs, or freeze dried potatoes might seem the best route, but I assure you it is not. Drastically changing your diet under stress will likely lead to upset stomachs. Buy extra toilet paper! It is much better to have extra of the food you already eat regularly. Consider buying a small chest freezer, even if you're in an apartment, to have extra meats and vegetables.

Preparing and cooking food

If the power goes out, how will you heat your food? Firstly, try to have foods available that do not require cooking, this will save you time, too! A few things I keep on hand are granola/protein bars, PB&J sandwich fixings, fruit, nuts, crackers, and meat jerky. For cooking, consider propane stoves, camping stoves, grills, and having supplies to cook over a campfire. If you plan to cook over a fire, have plenty of dry pre-seasoned wood on hand!

This topic is so well covered by other sites, I will simply say this: First aid is an absolutely critical piece of preparations. Many events and scenarios that cause you to bug in come with risk of medical injuries, all the while shutting down regularly available medical care such as doctors, ERs, and urgent care locations. You need both and individual first aid kit, and a more robust kit for your home. If you don't already have a kit, here are lists for an Individual First Aid Kit and a more robust Home Medical Supplies Kit.

If the power is out, you better have a backup light source. In addition to that, you should be sure that security/motion lights work whether the power is out or not. Natural disasters can bring out the worst (and best) in human behavior. We'll dive into this more in the security section. For now, let's run through what supplies would be a bright (haha) idea to have on hand.

Best lights to have for bugging in

  • Handheld flashlight that takes common (AA or AAA) batteries
  • Headlamp - if you've ever tried to prepare food while holding a flashlight you know how valuable a headlamp is!
  • Lantern or diffuser for flashlight
  • Extra batteries for any lights. It best serves you to make sure all of your lights take the same type of battery so you need less batteries
  • Candles - Everyone should have a 100 pack of tea candles. I also recommend a few candle holders that help lift the candle up helping the light to spread.

Communication may be deserving of it's own post in the future because of how complex it can be. For now I'll make it simple and short. Information is king during disasters, and can literally be the difference between life and death. Let's make sure you have what you need to get information and provide that information to others as well!

Communication tools for bugging in

  • Smart phone
    • As long as cell towers are up, this will be your primary communication tool
    • Have backup power options such as a USB power bank
  • Multi-power, multi-band radio
    • Crank, solar, battery power
    • FM, AM, Weather at a minimum. Short wave + amateur bands a plus
  • Two-Way Radios (2)
    • Ideally one for each person in your house
    • Determine a neighborhood channel that can be used at any time for emergencies and general discussion
  • Notebook with paper and pencil
    • Keep notes of important information from authorities, upcoming weather, and any number of other things you don't want to forget
  • CB Radio
    • Especially useful along major transportation routes where trucks are
  • Amateur radio
    • Range is much further than regular two way radios
    • Requires a license
  • Satellite phones

Though far less critical than items like water, food, and first aid, security should not be forgotten. We only need to look as far as the aftermath of hurricane Katrina and the civil disturbances it caused.

Hurricane Katrina was characterized by extensive reporting of looting, violence, shooting against rescuers, murder and rape.

While overall the reports were exaggerated during this time period, there were no doubt critical safety and security issues all over the affected area. Depending on the situation causing you to bug in, issues such as these may be more or less likely. Prepare your household accordingly.

How to secure your house to bug in

  • Security lights with motion sensor - preferably solar powered
  • Deadbolts on every door with 3" screws into the frame of the door
  • Lock interior door to garage - garage doors are very easy to break through
  • Tall fences around property and thorny bushes below windows
  • Alarm system with battery backup
  • Break-in plan and safe room
    • Pre-agreed upon plan with specific room for everyone to meet
  • Non-lethal and lethal tools
    • Pepper spray - must test before to know how it works!
    • Stun gun
    • Extremely bright flashlight
    • Firearm - Rifles are easier to use than pistols

Natural disasters are likely to cause damage to your house. Having tools available to repair or prevent the damage could save you a big headache in the long run!

Tools to have for bugging in

  • Fire extinguisher
  • Shovel
  • Sandbags (for flooding)
  • Hammer and Nails
  • Tarps - can be used to keep water out of damaged structures
  • Pry bar
  • Duct tape
  • Silcock key - can be used to turn on water from outside water spigots especially in apartments

House in somerset barricaded from flood
A house in Somerset completely barricaded from a flood

COVID has shown us just how important sanitation is. Even if the disaster you're experiencing isn't a pandemic, keeping clean and sanitary is key to staying healthy. Staying healthy is critical when toilet paper isn't available :)

  • Disinfecting wipes
  • Disinfecting spray
  • Paper towels
  • Toilet paper
  • Garbage bags
  • Hand soap
  • Dish soap
  • Dishwasher soap/tablets
  • Disposable gloves
  • Reusable rubber gloves
  • Bleach
  • Wet wipes/baby wipes
  • Toothpaste, toothbrushes
  • Deodorant
  • Laundry detergent - and a bucket if the power is out!
  • Feminine products
  • Bucket toilet seat and 5 gal bucket - if water stops or the sewers back, you need a place to go!
  • Pest control - bugs and rodents can and will cause plenty of problems if left unchecked

As a society, we're more reliant on electricity every day than the previous one. It's wise to start taking steps now to limit that, but be prepared for when the power is out and you've bugged in.

  • USB battery for phones
  • Gas, Diesel, Propane, or Natural Gas Generator
  • Solar system - requires special batteries, inverter, and charge controller. Look for a post on this in the future
  • USB solar panel - do not charge devices directly as heat from sun can damage. Charge a USB battery
  • Vehicle 12v inverter
  • Alkaline batteries in common varieties (AAA, AA, 9v)
  • Rechargeable AAA, AA batteries for flashlights
  • A way to charge whatever communication gear you've decided on
  • Solar lights - both for security outdoors and interior lighting into the evening

Do you know what your Heat and A/C are powered by? Natural Gas? Electric? Propane? Are you prepared for 100 degree days with no A/C, or -20 degree days with no heat? When you're bugging in, prepare to spend the whole day dealing with the elements!

  • Extra blankets
  • PVA cooling towels
  • Battery or DC powered fans
  • Interior safe propane heaters
  • Woodpile and wood stove, or a fire place with a blower
  • Evaporative cooler - will only work in drier environments

If you keep your important documents outside of the home, or in the cloud, it's time to make backups! Bugging in may mean you don't have the option to get to your safety deposit box or access those documents stored on iCloud or Google Drive.

  • Personal information
    • Bank and Investment Account Details
    • Copies of Personal ID's
    • Last Will and Testament
    • Property ownership papers
    • Vehicle ownership and registration
    • Passport. Every prepper should have a passport as a last resort.
  • Local information
    • Weather and emergency station frequencies
    • Emergency medical care facilities
    • Emergency pet care facitilies
    • Paper maps of local area
    • Neighborhood directory

Keeping your mind busy when you've been forced to bug in and your normal schedule is gone can be very difficult. Being quarantined can cause real mental health issues. What if there is no internet? No phone? What will you do for you kids?

  • Games
  • Puzzles
  • Books
  • Battery-powered movie player
  • Movies on a hard drive with a way to charge the computer
  • Magazines
  • Art supplies and coloring books
  • Multiple decks of cards
  • A workout routine
  • A journal - this is very important and can help you process what is happening
  • Community - check on neighbors
  • Creativity - use your imagination to create new games and adventures
  • Skills
    • Cooking
    • Sewing/mending
    • Textbooks

While bugging in is the preferred reaction to a disaster, you must have a backup plan for your backup plan. If infrastructure is down or slowed events such as wildfires, house fires, floods, tornados, or simple crime & safety may require you to leave your house in an instant. A good bug out bag is a must, and a secondary location to gather is important. Talk with family and friends ahead of time so that if they need a place, they can come to you, or if you need a place you can go to them.

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