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Should I Stay or Should I Go? When it's Time to Leave

The question of whether to shelter in place or bug out is one of the most debated topics of preparedness. For those who already have an iron-clad plan to shelter in place, recent events might inspire you to reconsider. Adaptability is crucial in emergency preparedness, and sometimes this requires tossing your plans out the window. Consider some disasters that have made recent headlines.

On February 3, 2023, a Norfolk and Southern train derailed in Palestine, Ohio, resulting in the release of multiple dangerous chemicals, among them vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen. Immediately thereafter, residents reported getting sick. One woman who lives within a mile of the scene said she began to cough up gray mucus and struggled to breathe days after the incident. Her diagnosis was “acute bronchitis due to chemical fumes.”

Residents are concerned about water contamination (the extent of which may not be fully known for some time, as it could take years for pollutants to reach the aquifer) and exposure to contaminated soil and property. Interestingly, in an interview, a former member of the EPA reveals her doubts over the agency’s handling of the accident, stating, "These federal agencies know what to do, and they're not doing everything they need to do to serve the people." She felt residents should have been kept away longer and when they did return home after the fire (which was a result of the controlled demolition of the hazardous chemicals), they found soot covering their cars and in the soil. They were exposed to chemicals when they attempted to clean up the mess. Additionally, people have reported dead fish in local waterways. Pets and chickens dying. The EPA administrator in charge of the area assures us that everything is fine.

Less than two weeks later, a semitruck carrying liquid nitric acid overturned on an Arizona freeway near Tucson, killing the driver and releasing toxic chemicals. The original evacuation area was about one mile and was later extended. I have a friend whose family live in the area and she shared her frustration that she could not get them to evacuate, even though they lived in the near vicinity.

On November 2, 2022, a Canadian National train that derailed and spilled hydrochloric acid was transporting “many other toxic, carcinogenic, corrosive and highly flammable chemicals.” The Homeland Security director of the region said most of the trains passing through St. James Parrish transport hazardous material and local officials make emergency plans accordingly.

And that is exactly what you must do: know your area, assess potential hazards and make your emergency plans accordingly. If you plan to shelter in place for when SHTF, you should already be prepared for a long-term survival situation, taking into consideration all family members and pets. You will have the food, water, medication, materials, clothing, etc. to ensure your survival.

However, if you experience a chemical spill, wildfire, flood or tornado, for example, you may be required to leave your home quickly. Keep buckets of food and supplies ready to go. Each person and pet should have a go-bag filled with supplies to get them through for several days. Have a plan – know ahead of time where you will go. If you are going to go to friends’ or relatives’ homes, make sure they know ahead of time. Offer your place to them in the event they may need it. When arrangements are made in advance, you lessen the likelihood of having to scramble for necessities at the worst possible time.

Toxic clouds and hazardous chemical spills should be of utmost concern and prompt you to evacuate the area immediately. The agents listed above are known carcinogens and cause numerous respiratory illnesses as well as injuries upon contact. If you live near refineries or train tracks where hazardous chemicals are transported daily, consider purchasing respirators to wear during your evacuation. Have them handy – keep them with your go bags.

Maintain all vehicles in good working order and keep their gas tanks full. Hang the keys next to the front or garage door. No one needs to search for keys during an emergency. Keep your phones charged and have chargers in your go bags and/or vehicles. Know escape routes and alternate routes in the event of a mass evacuation.

Be aware of the prevailing wind conditions in your area. If your plan includes a location that requires you to pass through or ends up being affected by a toxic cloud, you may have to go in the opposite way. Arrange mutual bug out location agreements with friends in every direction – even over various distances. Encourage them to do the same. Imagine an entire network of self-reliant communities!

If you live in a densely populated area, leave BEFORE you are told to do so. Trust your instincts, not your television. If you leave early and make your way to your bug-out location, and it proves unnecessary, then the worst that happened is you can have a nice visit with trusted friends and go over your preps!

A lot of families with a shelter in place plan, especially for long-term survival situations, grow their own food and have back yard birds for eggs and meat. Some raise livestock. No one knows what the impact on their ability to do this will be in Palestine, Ohio over time. This is why, if you live in an area that may be subject to such a risk, you must keep a supply of shelf-stable food such as freeze-dried, dehydrated or canned food in air-tight containers. If it is safe to remain on your property, this will keep your family fed.

Conflicting reports regarding air and water quality in Palestine, Ohio indicate that ultimately your safety is up to you. The EPA official who reassured residents that the air and water were safe will suffer no consequences if her information proves incorrect. You and your family will pay the price. Trust those who will never be held accountable at your peril.

Your survival and your family’s survival are up to you.

Please check out The Red Hot Chilly Prepper podcast and consider supporting our show by using the donate button on the Home Page. If you want more information on how to build a supply of emergency food, see my book Food Preservation Strategies, part of the Red Hot Chilly Prepper Survival Series. There are affiliate links on the Suzanne's Books page on this site.

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