Upper West Side CERT

Go Bag 201: Beyond the Basics

By Jon Howland

Jon HowlandOK, you’re CERT-ified. You’ve taken the training. You have a Rescue Bag AND a Go Bag packed and ready in the hall closet. You’re prepared for any grab-and-run scenario they can throw at you. But are you truly happy?

If you have ever found yourself wondering how you can become lighter, faster, and even more efficient in a disaster situation, you may be a candidate for Go Bag 201. This is where you become a lean, mean survival machine — well, at least a better prepared, more self-sufficient version of what you were.

Let’s begin with a few items you might want to consider adding to the basic Are You Prepared? list.

  • Eye protection (goggles)
  • Gloves
  • Comfort / entertainment items (such as a deck of cards or rubber ball)
  • Compass
  • Quarters (Pay phones often work when power is out and cell towers are down.)

You may have a few suggestions of your own. Or there may be certain items specific to you and your family, or to where you live that should be included. Consider your individual circumstances as you prepare.

Principles to consider when assembling a Go Bag:

  • Size matters. Start with the bag itself — bigger is better, but too big is bad. Consider the size and weight of each item before deciding to include it. Every ounce, every cubic inch matters. An ultralight backpacker will cut off most of the handle of her tooth brush, then drill holes through the remainder of the handle to save an ounce.
  • Just the basics. Eliminate packaging.
  • Work from a budget. Go Bags can be assembled for next to nothing from items sitting around the house; alternatively, it is easy to drop a lot of money on assorted gear and still be heavy and inefficient.
  • Pack in proportion. You don’t need a week’s worth of clothing and only a day’s worth of water.
  • Group like items by function (see below). Examples: first aid supplies, food and water, sanitation.
  • Prioritize accessibility based on function. Example: A dust mask and goggles should be readily accessible; so should your first aid kit and extra set of keys.
  • Waterproof. Certain items should be stored in plastic bags. Your emergency phone numbers, your meds, your radio, and that roll of toilet paper will be useless wet.
  • Familiarize yourself with the gear. An emergency is the wrong time to start reading instructions.
  • Contents should be dedicated. To ensure your items will be there when you need them, avoid “borrowing” from your Go Bag.
  • Replenish periodically. Set aside one day every six months to update phone numbers and replace meds, batteries, and anything else that might have an expiration date.
  • Create redundancy for essential items. Example: One light source is not enough.
  • Make your bag scalable. Pack an extra, empty bag to allow expanding or consolidating resources and/or sharing the load with someone else.
  • Bring something to share. Extra gum, candy, or coffee can help raise group morale and buy good will.
  • We all need water to live. Carefully consider water storage and procurement.


The best Go Bags will serve these crucial functions:

  • Water / Food
  • Clothing /Shelter
  • Light / Heat
  • Medical / First Aid
  • Sanitation / Hygiene
  • Liquidity (i.e., cash and/or barter goods)
  • Entertainment / Comfort / Gifting
  • Defense
  • Communication
  • Navigation / Transportation
  • Documentation, Identification, House and Car Keys
  • Power and Power Storage

These tips along with the list on the UWS CERT Are You Prepared? page should help you in your quest to become lean, mean, and ready for anything.

Do you know the difference between a Rescue Bag and a Go Bag?

Your green Rescue Bag with the CERT logo is what you will grab when you are deployed to assist first responders in an emergency or disaster situation. It contains items that will enable you to aid in the emergency or disaster mitigation effort. The rescue bag should also contain certain personal safety items to see you through your deployment.

Your Go Bag is for your personal use. It can be any size, color, or material, as long as it contains what you and your loved ones need to survive until help arrives. This list and the tips above will help you to stock a proper Go Bag. Visit our CERT Links page to find out where you can buy the items you need.

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