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Bugging Out: When Home is No Longer Safe

Fleeing Yazidis, tens of thousands, walked with their livestock along the single-lane road to the mountain. The lucky had packed into cars or hung off the sides of trucks, traveling as quickly as they could through the crowds. Some pushed the elderly in wheelbarrows or carried them on their backs, hunched over with the weight. The midday sun was dangerously hot, and a few of the very old or sick died on the side of the road, their thin bodies collapsed into the sand like fallen branches. People who passed them were so intent on making it to the mountain, and so scared of being caught by terrorists, that they barely seemed to notice.

As the Yazidis walked toward the mountain, they dropped much of what they carried. A stroller, a coat, a cooking pot-when they first ran from their homes, it must have seemed impossible that they would leave those things. How could they eat without a pot to cook in? What would happen when their arms started to ache from carrying a baby? Would they make it home before winter? Eventually, though, as the walk became more strenuous and the distance to the mountain seemed longer with each step they took, all of that stuff became dead weight and was left by the side of the road like trash. Children dragged their feet until their shoes split apart beneath them. When they reached the mountain, some people scrambled straight up the craggy sides while others hid in caves, temples, or mountain villages. Cars sped along the winding roads, some tumbling over the sides when the drivers, in their haste, lost control. The mountain’s plateaus became crowded with the displaced.

- Nadia Murad, The Last Girl

When the so called Islamic State spread like a plague across Nothwestern Iraq, tens of thousands of Yazidis, Christians, Shi’a Muslims, and others had to flee their homes with very little notice. ISIS fighters killed, raped, and enslaved those who could not make it out in time. The Yazidis who were able to make it to the relative safety of Sinjar mountain suffered from lack of resources for weeks, while they were surrounded by ISIS fighters prowling the plains below.

The broader Syrian civil war, along with ISIS’s devastation created an unimaginable human crisis. The statistics are staggering. As of 2019, the ninth year of the civil war, 6.2 million people were internally displaced within Syria. An additional 5.3 million Syrians were registered as refugees in neighboring countries. Almost 900,000 people lived in internally displaced persons (IDP) sites of last resort, according to Humanitarian Needs Overview. These IDP camps are basically tent cities, lacking adequate food, water, medical care, employment opportunities, and most importantly, hope. Those who were fortunate escaped the horrors of the war early, and managed to escape to Europe or Kurdistan, where they were able to restart their lives in relative safety. Yazidis captured by ISIS faced the worst of the brutality. Those who were not killed immediately became slaves of ISIS fighters or leaders. ISIS fighters raped and traded around young Yazidi girls, giving them as prizes to foreign fighters. Some underwent forced conversion so they could become ISIS wives. Many now raise ISIS babies. ISIS took young Yazidi boys, and indoctrinated them through months of Sharia lessons. The boys faced forced conversion, or death. Those who converted became ISIS fighters or suicide bombers. Most captured Yazidi boys have since been killed in fighting or suicide attacks.

While the crisis in Syria is horrifying, it is by no means unique. By the end of 2017, war, violence, and persecution had uprooted 68.5 million men, women and children around the world. According to the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, four million Venezuelans fled their country as of June 2019. This figure represented an increase of one million people over figures from November 2018. Whether fleeing terrorism, socialism, or other horrors, people worldwide have been forced to flee from their homes in search of safety or the opportunity to start a new life. Those who were prepared and got out early were able to establish new lives without much disruption. Many of those who were unprepared died along the way due to violence, dehydration, or other hazards. Those who could not escape continue to suffer in horrible conditions to this day.

While these worldwide crises may feel distant from our comfortable lives, all of our comfort and security could be flipped upside down in an instant. While you have time and resources available is the best time to think about “bugging out”, and how to prepare to leave to a safer area with little or no warning. Civil unrest or natural disasters could force you out of your home with little warning. When to leave the safety of your home will ultimately be your decision based on conditions around you. If you have sufficient supplies in your home, and you can protect yourself in your home, you may decide to stay. If your situation deteriorates, however, you may be forced to leave for a safer area. If you miss your chance to leave, the window of opportunity may close, and you could become stranded with no way out.

Because you may not get much warning before you may be forced to bug out, you will need to prepare ahead of time to be ready. Once disaster strikes, it will be too late to start your preparations and gathering supplies. By having your gear and your plan ready beforehand, you will be able to bug out at a moment’s notice.

Before deciding what gear to pack, or what type of vehicle you should use, you will need to determine where you need to go, and how you plan to get there. Too often in refugee scenarios, people have nowhere to go. They flee violence and hunger, but have no options for where they can escape. You should identify two or three bug out locations you can transfer to before conditions deteriorate to the point you need to leave. These safe havens should be somewhere you can be safe, and either have enough supplies to last you, or could serve as way points to restock as you continue on to your final destination. These bug out locations could be the home of a close friend or relative, a remote cabin in the woods, or even just an area where you can securely wait out the worst. Plan for several options, so that if you can't get to one, you can still bug out to another location. If you live in a rural area, consider a safe haven in a couple of urban areas that may have access to more resources. If you live in an urban area, plan for bug out locations in rural areas, where you can hunt, fish, and are less likely to be the victim of violence. Plan for safe havens various distances away. You will want to consider various options depending on whether you plan to walk to your bug out location, or if you will be able to get there by vehicle. If you needed to bug out of the country entirely, where would you go? How would you get there?

When the military plans operations, they follow the PACE concept. This is an acronym for Primary, Alternate, Contingency, and Emergency. Use this concept when planning to bug out. Your primary safe haven will be your ideal bug out destination. This could be somewhere that you could easily get to in a few hours, is secure, and is stocked with supplies to sustain you and your party indefinitely. If, however, you can't reach your primary safe haven, you may have to bug out to your alternate location. This location may be with a relative who lives farther away, but still has room for you and your party. Supplies may be limited, but with everyone in the group pulling together, you can stretch current supplies while acquiring more. If you can't reach your alternate bug out location, you may have to go to your contingency safe haven. This could be the house of your buddy Joe from high school. He told you one time that his house is your house, and you should feel free to visit anytime you want. Even though you haven’t spoken to Joe in years, you could take him up on his offer during a desperate times. If you find out that your buddy Joe has been murdered by a gang of bandits, you may need to resort to your emergency safe haven. This could be a remote area in the mountains where you can pull over and build an emergency shelter. Using the folding saw, tarp, and paracord that you packed in your truck before leaving your home, you can build a shelter that will keep you dry from the elements while you plan your next moves.

You will also need to plan for a primary, alternate, contingency, and emergency route for each of your safe haven locations. You never know if a bridge will be out, or if security considerations will prevent you from getting to your destination via the most direct route. During your planning, you should go over each of your safe haven locations, and map out multiple routes to get to them. You should then practice on each of the routes to verify that you can get to your safe haven along the route you mapped out. By actually taking the route, you will be able to identify landmarks and potential obstacles that you may not find on a map. You will also learn how long it will take to get there, and the conditions of the route.

Use PACE to plan out your mode of transportation for getting to each of your safe havens. Plan out ahead of time what vehicle options you can use. If you have to resort to walking to your safe haven in an emergency, you will need to know if you can make it, how long it will take, if you will need to modify your route based on not having a vehicle, and how much gear you will be able to carry. You will likely find that you will tire out much faster than you expected when hiking with a fully loaded backpack. Practice each of the routes with various transportation options ahead of time, so you can learn, and modify your plan as needed.

When preparing to bug out, use PACE for every aspect of your planning. This concept applies to methods of communication, ways to start a fire, weapons you can use to defend yourself, or ways to purify water. You may find only two routes to your primary safe haven. You may have five alternate bug out locations. You may find conditions so different than you expected, that you have to completely disregard your plans, and make up a new plan as you go along. The fact is, you will not be able to account for every possible scenario. Planning ahead of time will help you identify possibilities and obstacles ahead of time, and will guide your decision-making when things don’t go according to plan.

Please note, however, that bugging out is an emergency action for when staying at home no longer is the best option. In most cases, you are better off staying at home. There you can be safe, you should have adequate supplies, and you can reduce the spread of the corona virus. You should plan now for potentially bugging out, but until then, stay home.

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