A Go Bag with various items for an emergency.
Photo: Getty Images

The first sign some­thing was wrong was the “snow” Ryan Cross and his family saw outside their San Diego home in October 2003. They soon realized it was ash from an approaching wildfire. “We just grabbed stuff like computers and my mom’s jewelry and left,” he remembers. “We had to drive on the wrong side of the road because the other side was covered in flames.”

The Cross family was lucky: Their house was one of the few in the area that was spared. Cross, 38, still lives in the San Diego area with his wife and 7- and 9-year-old daughters. But now he’s prepared: He has a “go bag” by the front door that includes cash in small bills, battery-operated video games for the girls, expired passports for ID, contact numbers, space blankets, and a thumb drive that has copies of insurance policies and other financial documents in case a secure web connection can’t be found. There’s also a list in the bag of items they can grab if they have more than 15 minutes to leave their home. The kids know where the family will rendezvous if they have to evacuate separately.

More on Emergency Preparedness

Just over 40 percent of CR members who experienced a hurricane had a go bag on hand when the storm struck; only 25 percent who live where there are wildfires had them. Even if you don’t need to evacuate, having some cash, food, extra gas, and batteries will come in handy if you’re without power for an extended time.

For a complete list of items you should have in your go bag and advice about where to store it, go to the Department of Homeland Security’s website. And if you have the time, Cross suggests you raid the freezer and liquor cabinet on your way out the door. “You’re probably going to stay with family or friends who will feed and house you for a while,” he says. “They’ll appreciate a great bottle of scotch and a giant steak.”

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the October 2018 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.