Anchorage, AK

Maintaining Calm Amid Chaos: Families Pack ‘Go Bags’ to be Ready for Natural Disasters

Grant Perry

(Note: I am not sponsored or compensated in any way for this article.)

Anchorage resident Heather Foyer never worried about wildfires affecting her home near Dowling and Elmore roads. That changed on July 2, 2019, when a nearby wildfire prompted Foyer and her roommate to evacuate.

“We could see the tower of smoke from our front window,” Foyer said. “It looked like it was right behind the house across the street, but it was just so massive.”

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Heather Foyer of Anchorage reviews her go bag contents.Courtesy of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Public Information

With extreme weather events escalating in frequency and severity in recent years, experts urge families to plan ahead for natural disasters. Ready.gov, a FEMA website, recommends putting together a “collection of basic items” to last for several days, including food, water, a change of clothes, cash, and a flashlight.

As the flames appeared to be getting closer, Foyer recalls that her mind began to race with worry. She and her roommate discussed evacuating, while refreshing her phone for fire updates. Deciding to leave, they grabbed their ”go bags” and headed to safety.

Foyer credits regular disaster-preparedness reminders through her congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Christian organization’s official website, jw.org, for helping her keep at the ready.

Another wildfire threat played out again on June 23, 2022, during a severe drought in the Anchorage area. Foyer saw a helicopter circling over black smoke in an area close to where she lives. Fire crews worked quickly to control the blaze and no evacuations were ordered. Foyer was glad she was prepared with her go bag, just in case.

“Having a bag packed with essentials and important documents gives me a sense of calm. It gives me a little bit more peace of mind that I'm going to be safer, should I have to evacuate,” said Foyer.

“Being ready to face a natural disaster may be the difference between life and death when it unexpectedly hits,” said Robert Hendriks, U.S. spokesperson for the Christian organization. “We can’t just say life is precious; we need to live it. That’s why the Bible’s advice to take practical steps to protect ourselves and our families from danger makes so much sense — even if threats seem far off.”

On July 28, 2021, after a later family dinner of freshly caught crab, Michelle Anderson and her daughter Lillian, age 7, had just taken their new puppy outside when the ground began to shake. An 8.2 magnitude earthquake, the largest recorded in the U.S. in 50 years, hit just 50 miles south of their Chignik Lagoon Community.

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Michelle and Lillian Anderson check their go bag supplies at their home in Chignik Lagoon.Courtesy of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Public Information

“We just stood there,” said Michelle. “It was shocking. I had my daughter curled up next to me and we were holding on to the puppy.”

When tsunami warnings followed the earthquake, the Andersons had to evacuate. In their vehicle, ready to go, was a bag with water, food, first aid supplies and important medications.

Following that rattling experience, Michelle and Lillian reviewed the family’s go bags and took the opportunity to update the first aid kit and expired medications.

Does having a go bag lower anxiety during a disaster? “Absolutely it does,” Michelle said. Referring to her daughter, she added, “And I think it gives her, too, a level of security.”

Sam and Amanda Rowley, of Anchorage, have seen their emergency kits be of both practical and emotional value for their family of five.

“Our kids were quite anxious when we had an earthquake a few years ago,” Amanda said. “And so our daughter especially is concerned about having everything ready to go.”

The Rowleys also practice with their children — ages 8, 6 and 2 — so they will know what to do during an emergency. This paid off for the family when the carbon monoxide alarm went off in their home. Everyone got out of the house right away and they called 911.

“Because we practiced, I think it was easier on the kids,” Sam said. “We all went in our van and got away from the house pretty quickly.”

Disaster-preparedness suggestions and tips for putting together a go bag are available from FEMA at ready.gov and from Jehovah's Witnesses at jw.org.

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I have lived nearly my whole life in Alaska, mostly in Anchorage. I am interested in local, national, and global news, local food and events, games, and music.

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