“Go bags” sit in the foyer, packed with emergency supplies, ready to go if a disaster forces John and Mary Usborne to rush out the door of their home in Oneida, New York “We feel a little more comfortable knowing that we’re as prepared as we can get for emergencies,” said John. “When something happens, we need to be alert and act quickly.”
John and Mary learned from experience the value of preparation. On June 28, 2013, their home flooded when heavy rainfall inundated The Flats in the City of Oneida, where they had lived for thirty years.
John was already at work when Mary left the house to go to the store around 9 a.m. She didn’t get far. What she saw caused her to fear for the safety of her daughter and mother, still at home. “I just got down to the end of my street, and I happened to see water gushing across the road. I looked to my left and the water was just pouring over the levee. I quickly turned the car around and went right back to the house,” Mary said.
She alerted her mother and daughter, then scrambled to collect some necessities. “I was no sooner there, and the police were at our door saying, ‘You have to evacuate, and you have 10 minutes,’” she said.
Support rendered by friends in the local congregation as well as the community, helped the Usbornes get through that difficult time when they lost their home due to the flood. They sympathize with victims of Hurricane Ian and others who face similar losses and offer support through prayers and donations to Jehovah’s Witness relief efforts.
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.
The Usbornes credit regular disaster-preparedness reminders through their congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and on the organization’s official website, jw.org, for helping them to be better prepared for the next disaster.
“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.
– Robert Hendriks III U.S. SPOKESMAN FOR JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES
“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.”
Until recently, Colorado couple Michael and Crystal Brook only thought of wildfires as a threat to those high on the slopes of the Rockies — never imagining that their suburban home in the foothills would be at risk.
Still, heeding advice to expect the unexpected, the Brooks assembled go bags, utilizing tips from the jw.org article “When Disaster Strikes — Steps That Can Save Lives.”
Last December, their efforts paid off when the Marshall Fire, a record-breaking inferno fueled by drought conditions and high winds, ravaged homes and businesses in Boulder County.
As flames leaped across the interstate highway near their home and billows of smoke darkened the midday sky, the Brooks grabbed their go bags, along with pillows and stuffed toys to help keep 6-year-old daughter Annastyn calm amid the chaos of evacuating their community.
Michael recalls the panic within the community. “They didn’t know what to do,” he said. Though the Brooks’ house sustained only minor smoke damage, and their go-bags went unused, the couple feels being prepared helped them remain calm and act swiftly under pressure. “Having the go bags made things simple,” said Michael.
“These days, anything can happen anytime, anywhere,” added Crystal. “It’s good to be prepared.”
In flood-prone Louisa, Kentucky, Brandon, and C’onia Fitch made preparing go bags a fun activity for kids Nolan, Gavin, and Stella, letting them pick out their own bags and add their favorite toys and nonperishable snacks.
“Everyone in the family had a role in preparing the bags,” said Brandon. “They know what’s in them, and they know where to find them.”
The importance of being ‘go bag ready’ was put to the test last year when floodwaters surrounded their home in rural Appalachia.
In pitch darkness and with freezing water rising steadily in their home, the Fitches loaded their go bags — and Princess Pickles, 6-year-old Stella’s beloved guinea pig — into the family car and drove to higher ground.
By morning, four feet of muddy floodwater had devastated the Fitches’ home and brought into sharp focus the true value of their efforts to prepare.
“It took a bit of the panic away,” said C’onia. “It seemed like a daunting task … but I’m so glad we did it.”
“You’re not going to regret it,” agreed Nolan, 16. “It could save your life.”