McHenry County Opinion

Oliver: Maui wildfires remind us why we need to put together a ‘go bag’

If you’ve been following reports of the Maui wildfires, then you know how awful the situation is. The death toll continues to rise and could be into the hundreds when everyone has been accounted for.

One thing that is coming to light is how little, if any, warning those people had about the fires that would consume everything in their path. In fact, those wildfires are still burning, though the one that leveled the town of Lahaina is not growing worse.

No doubt a lot of people in Hawaii never thought something like this could happen there. That’s just human nature. Nothing like that had happened before, so perhaps a lot of people were caught unprepared.

All of this got me thinking about how prepared I am for a natural disaster. Granted, we might not be in any danger of out-of-control wildfires, but we do face the possibility of being forced to evacuate.

That sort of thing has happened, whether it’s because of an industrial fire sending toxic smoke over homes or because we live in an area where we get severe flooding. And let’s not forget the ever-present threat of tornadoes, which can and have damaged our area. Even power outages have forced Tony and me to find somewhere else to go for a couple of days.

If I were given only a few minutes to grab my family’s things and go, would I know what to take? Would I have those things in places that would make it easy for me to access them? Or would I be running around the house hunting for items and wasting valuable time? Would I know where to go? Would I have a plan?

Those are the sort of questions that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would like every family to consider, no matter where they live. A look at all the information that’s available at the website is a sobering reminder that so many of us aren’t prepared.

Here’s a list of recommended items to include in a basic emergency supply kit. Some people call it a “go bag” because it should be where you can grab it and go.

- Water and nonperishable food for several days

- Extra cellphone battery or charger

- Battery-powered or hand crank radio that can receive NOAA Weather Radio tone alerts and extra batteries

- Flashlight and extra batteries

- First-aid kit

- Whistle to signal for help

- Dust mask, to help filter contaminated air, and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter in place

- Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation

- Non-sparking wrench or pliers to turn off utilities

- Can opener (if kit contains canned food)

- Local maps

FEMA also recommends these additional items to consider adding to your emergency supply kit:

- Prescription medications and glasses

- Infant formula and diapers

- Pet food, water and supplies for your pet

- Important family documents, such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a portable waterproof container

- Cash and change

- Emergency reference material, such as a first-aid book or information from

- Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person. Consider additional bedding if you live in a cold-weather climate

- Complete change of clothing, including a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and sturdy shoes. Consider additional clothing if you live in a cold-weather climate

- Fire extinguisher

- Matches in a waterproof container

- Feminine supplies, personal hygiene items and hand sanitizer

- Mess kits, paper cups, plate and disposable utensils, paper towels

- Paper and pencil

- Books, games puzzles or other activities for children

No doubt you’ll also want to have a list of emergency contacts with you, too.

Of course, the hope is that we’ll never need to use that “go bag.” However, no doubt we’ll be glad we went to the effort to put one together if we ever do.

Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

Joan Oliver

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.