Incidents like the Norco bank robbery, North Hollywood shootout, and the Columbine High School massacre have brought the concept of using a go bag (also called a bailout bag or war bag) to the forefront for law enforcement. A go bag is just that; you pick it up and go.
Usually they are geared toward a specific mission like an active shooter, cover officer for a K-9 track, or any other relatively short-term application. A go bag is usually filled with loaded magazines, water, and snacks. It's a stop-gap to keep you functioning while away from your patrol car and main resources for a few hours. I think it's time we take the go bag concept one step further and expand it into a more encompassing readiness bag.
A readiness bag is more long-term in nature. During an in-depth emergency, you might be on your own without support or resources for days at time. All one has to do is think back to 2005 and what first responders went through during Hurricane Katrina, and you start to get my meaning. A true readiness bag should be a major consideration for every officer who works the street. Let's look at the readiness bag concept and identify some of its components.
The Readiness Bag Concept
The main purpose of a readiness bag is to save you time, energy, and preparation for being on your own for a minimum of 72 hours with little to no support. The phrase "It's better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it" is the readiness bag's underlying theme. Where a go bag supports your mission in terms of hours, your readiness bag supports your mission in terms of days. For those of you who already use a go bag, think of a readiness bag as a go bag on steroids.
Your readiness bag should be deployed with you at all times. If that's not possible, then it needs to be readily accessible for pick-up at home or at work. The bag itself can be a daypack, duffel bag, rucksack, or any other bag large enough to hold enough supplies to get you through an initial emergency deployment. The readiness bag is organized in sets of smaller marked bags making them easy to find, sort out, and use.
You need to think about the contents of your bag in terms of your mission, geographic location, and personal needs. You also need to think in terms of your personal comfort. It's easy to be miserable and takes little effort. But with a little bit of planning, you can make any emergency situation more bearable. The following component list is not meant to be all-inclusive but merely serve as a primer.
Every readiness bag should contain a go bag. It just makes sense to have a smaller portable bag that can carry some extra ammunition, a canteen or water bottle, and a few snacks. There are many military surplus bags (gas mask carriers, small packs, or messenger bags) that will work just fine. Or you can purchase new commercial bags, like the US Peacekeepers Rapid Deployment Pack, the Fox Tactical Messenger Bag, or the 5.11 Tactical Push Pack.
Food and Water
Your readiness bag should follow the emergency preparedness guidelines from FEMA. You should have enough food, water, and other supplies on hand to get you through at least a 72-hour period. You should have no less than a gallon a day of water for yourself because you’ll need it for drinking, cooking, and cleaning. Though food choices are based on individual taste, understand that you need to be able to prepare these meals with minimal hassle. If you are one of those cold MRE or right out of the can type people, more power to you.
On the other hand, if you prefer a hot meal, then you need to look at some type of small backpacking stove like an MSR Pocket Rocket or a Tringia Alcohol Stove. You could go simple and use Sterno cooking fuel. You can also find a great deal of useful DIY information on YouTube. For example, if you go to the Website and search for "Blue Hill UL Stove," you'll find an inexpensive DIY solution—a pot stand for Sterno cooking fuel—that stores easily and works really well.
You will also need some type of cookware. It can be as expensive as a titanium cook set from a camping store, as simple as using a military surplus canteen cup, or as resourceful as making a DIY Foster's beer can pot. Don't forget about eating utensils and some type of can opener. I have seen plenty of officers walking around with a can of food they couldn't open or eating something by using their folding knife blade as a spoon.
If you remember, grab some plastic sporks the next time you eat fast food. As for can openers, the military folding P-38 is small and works great. I carried one on my dog tags for years. Or you can go to the dollar store and grab a more traditional one. Pack some garbage bags so you can clean up after yourself as well.
Most people remember to cover the toiletry basics by packing toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, and razors, but tend to forget the other side of the house. Some baby wipes will help keep you fresh if you don't have any shower facilities. Some micro towels and a large bath towel are also a must. And don't forget your own roll (or two) of toilet paper. It's funny until you have to start cutting your T-shirt up because there isn't any TP for miles. Sunblock and insect repellant are also important considerations, as well as antibacterial hand cleaner.
People will pack food, ammo, and water, but they won't think about spare T-shirts, underwear, and socks. Everyone knows what a long shift is like. When I get home and have to peel my clothes off, I sometimes feel like burning them instead of washing them. Imagine if you can't get home to change your clothes after five or six shifts. A clean set of clothes is not only more sanitary but a morale booster (especially for the people around you).
You need to have spare clothing from an inclimate weather standpoint, too. For example, keep your feet wet for too long and you'll be looking at immersion foot. You need to change your socks often and use foot powder to keep your feet dry. Some type of breathable rain gear will help you stay dry and comfortable. A good set of work gloves will help you when you are moving debris. Consider a good hat for daytime use and a watch cap for cold nights.
Times have changed. Where there was once only books to worry about there are now e-readers, smartphones, laptops, and portable this and portable that. Make sure you pack enough spare batteries, your chargers, and any other accessory you need to keep electronics alive. I also recommend carrying an extension cord and power strip in case you end up with access to electricity. Since you and everyone else will be fighting for that one wall outlet, at least this way you can extend access. You may also want to invest in an inverter for your car so you can make your own electricity.
Another thing people forget is some type of sleep system. A sleeping bag or blanket, a sleeping pad, and small travel pillow will make you golden if your only choice is the floor. An inexpensive fleece blanket and thin Yoga mat will work in a pinch and are better than nothing. I would look at military surplus bags, as many U.S., French, Swiss, and German bags are readily available and relatively inexpensive. A surplus Army sleeping pad works great as well. But it's your back, so it’s your call.
You might be thinking that a readiness bag is not necessary or that you'll just throw some things together just before you walk out the door. My own experiences in 2004 when four hurricanes and three tropical storms hit Florida back to back made me a firm believer in having one available at all times. I still keep mine packed and ready to go and swap out the food stuffs periodically.
Society expects us to respond and help with every type of emergency call, not just be prepared to respond to a mass shooting. It's up to us to be ready. You can do it the hard way and be miserable or you can be better prepared and more comfortable. You really never know what's going to be asked of you, where you will be, and for how long. By starting with a properly formed readiness bag, you at least know one thing: you are good to go for at least 72 hours.
Amaury Murgado is a special operations lieutenant with the Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office. He is a retired master sergeant from the Army Reserve, has 25 years of law enforcement experience, and has been a lifelong student of martial arts.