Bugging out is a commonly discussed and planned event for the self-sufficient. Many preppers are well-acquainted with the concept, and thanks to an abundance of expert knowledge and insights to be found on the topic there are very few of us into prepping that don’t have a passable plan to bug out. Whether or not that includes a family or other people is dependent on one’s unique situation.
One thing I noticed amid all these well-laid plans, family packing procedures and carefully detailed travel itineraries is a lack of consideration for elderly family or group members and how that might affect your bug out. Plenty of discussions about children, but surprisingly very little about grandma, grandpa or your old neighbor, Tom.
This is a little odd when you consider most of us will have someone in our family that is getting upward in the years, probably not as capable or as spry as they once were, and probably needs special care or attention for health concerns.
More so than your average child, the frailty, lack of endurance and health care requirements of your average senior citizen can be daunting even in kind times. How much will this complicate your plans to get out of town and away from danger? Should seniors even attempt to bug out?
Short answer is no, older folks should not try to bug out when SHTF. Bugging out is going to be a perilous adventure, and not having the physical ability to survive is a huge disadvantage.
That’s the question we’ll be answering in today’s article.
Over the Hill and Out of Dodge
The answers to the question may be complex, but the concern for most of us is universal: someone we love or care about is elderly, and simply put significantly more vulnerable to the world at large, triply so in times of disaster.
You see it all the time; anything really bad happens, whatever it is, and a significant part of the casualties will usually be the very young and very old. Sad, but true.
1) For all following discussion, we will assume that our theoretical elderly person wants to live, i.e. bug out, survive.
2) The question is now: are elderly people capable of bugging out? Is bugging out in any form too much of a strain on an elderly person’s constitution?
3) As a corollary to #2, regardless, is it best to attempt to bug out with elders in tow, or should emphasis on response be to shelter in place if achievable?
4) There will be some seniors who are completely aware of the situation and their chances, and would rather stay put to weather a crisis.
The way I see it, that is the crux of the issue. In the following sections I will proffer what I think are the answers to those questions, and additional considerations that will affect the planning and execution phases of your bug out when you anticipate a senior coming along.
Assuming Grandpa Hasn’t Seen Enough…
Per #1, I am writing assuming your senior citizen in question actually wants to live. Severe stress and trauma can affect people in strange ways, and I can speak from intimate experience I have seen the elderly simply lose the will to keep living after a traumatic experience. Senescence, you’ll sometimes hear it called.
It is grim to contemplate, but you must be prepared for the possibility that the person you are trying to save may simply be totally unwilling to go on, or attempt to live through whatever is ahead.
I cannot even attempt to advise you on how to proceed under such a revelation except to say you must consider how you will handle it before it happens, no matter how unlikely it may seem.
If you are dealing with a family member, you may decide ahead of time how to respond. Some will not abide by such a decision, whether or not they think their relative is in their right mind, and will force them to evacuate. Others may respect their wishes as an end-of-life decision, however sad and stressful it is to leave them to their fate.
If you are dealing with a neighbor or stranger, you must quickly decide how much time you are willing to, possibly, squander on attempting to reason with the unreasonable. There is a hierarchy of responsibility, and you should always be attentive to the needs of your family and group first.
These are some of the most troubling, painful factors in this equation, but they must be weighed now. A little time spent contemplating what you will do beforehand will prevent an impasse when time is of the essence later.
Can the Elderly Handle Bugging Out?
There is a lot to unpack in that question. The broad answer is “yes.” The fine answer is “it depends on the answers to a lot of other questions.”
A few of those questions are, “what is the mode of travel?” “What is the overall physical condition of our elder?” “Do they have significant health problems, and what level of care and intervention is required?”
Overall, yes, elderly are more than capable of bugging out to avoid the worst of a crisis so long as the voyage accommodates them physically, more or less.
Compared to other adults and adolescents, seniors are more vulnerable to everything: they fatigue faster, are more likely to be injured, more vulnerable to dehydration or malnutrition, more vulnerable to exposure, and on and on.
None of this means that our seniors are too fragile to move or mess with, only that we must keep the stresses and intensity of the process even more closely within the green to make sure we don’t wind up with a casualty.
Regarding the mode of travel, this is probably the biggest concern. It is no trouble to load grandma, grandpa or Old Man Tom into the SUV along with the rest of the family and hit the road. A little more crowded, but otherwise no problem.
But what happens when you must leave the vehicle, perhaps a long way from your destination? What if you have to bike, or walk? How will Tom’s bad back hold up then? Grandpa is as frail as an icicle, and grandma needs a scooter or wheelchair to get around at all. Now suddenly you have a major problem.
With good route selection and a little luck you may be able to push them for miles in a wheelchair. But when the road gets rough, impassible or disappears completely you will have to carry them over or around an obstruction, if you can.
How long can you do that? How many strong, able bodied men and women in your party can share the burden?
Can you fashion a litter, two-man seat or some other contraption to facilitate moving them? All of these problems will pile up quickly and must be answered decisively before you embark on such an undertaking.
I present none of this to make you reconsider taking your elders when you bug out! We should honor our elders who paved the way for us, and take care of them in their time of need. Such is our duty. I bring these concerns up only so they do not sneak up on you when the chips are down, lives are on the line and people are counting on you.
Now, not all seniors are created equal! Some spry old ones maintain their vim and vitality well into their golden years, either through good genetics, strict adherence to diet and self-care or just plain providence.
If you are fortunate enough to have a senior possessed of such moxie, count yourself lucky, as they will be most likely capable of contributing to the group, to say nothing of reducing your concerns.
Assuming all things or equal, they will not quite be able to keep a hard pace as long as the younger people, and they probably will not fare as well if given a pounding, but you won’t have to treat them with kid gloves either.
Have them strap on their BOB and fall in! Just keep in mind no matter what they may say, they will need to hydrate more often and rest a little longer. Don’t let their overconfidence in their own physique affect your good judgment.
Yeah, But is that Smart?
Regarding the question of should we attempt to bug-out with an elderly person or change gears and attempt to shelter in place with them, is somewhat trickier to answer.
The variables affecting that call are enormous, mutable and impossible to weigh in totality ahead of time. To make that process a little easier, let’s prioritize.
First, assess the risk presented by the event that has prompted you to bug out: if there is a high probability of death or a severely degraded survival conditions if you stay, grab the old folks and go assuming you are able.
If you have fair to good chances of survival if you stay, and have other preparations in place to facilitate that you might choose to stay and hope for the best.
Second, what kind of health issues or persistent injuries are affecting our elder, here? A regimen of pills and lotions is one thing, paraplegia, insulin or oxygen requirements and dialysis are a whole ‘nother conversation.
Even in a grid-down scenario, taking someone dependent on modern medicines or medical procedure to stay alive would be ill-advised to leave the area where they are provided, or may be provided.
Deprived of insulin, some diabetics face certain death. Insulin requires refrigeration. If you cannot furnish it at your bug-out location, they may feel taking their chances waiting for rescue or the establishment of emergency medical areas is their best chance.
What if they flee with you, only to turn around and be unable to get back to their life saving treatments in a few days? Some seniors may have special needs to even move around, or require bulky machines and apparatus.
Third, something else you must consider; no matter how bleak it looks, most disasters will only force an area to go 48-72 hours without some type of aid or assistance.
Unless you are dealing with a true catastrophe, help will be on the way. You might be best served to hunker down, and after the danger passes make getting help or evacuation for our affected senior a priority for rescue personnel.
Ultimately, you’ll have to size up the situation, and weigh the odds of your senior surviving your bug-out plan against your chances of surviving if you stay put with them, and do so quickly. Once again, wargaming a few different scenarios now will prevent analysis paralysis when the adrenaline is flowing and people are screaming.
And a Few Old Folks Are Just Stubborn
You always knew it would come to this. Your old man is not leaving his home to burn up in the encroaching wildfire.
A prepper like you has all confidence in his fire breaks, anti-fire foam system, hi-flow hose and pump (pool fed, naturally) and his no-blade-of-grass-standing removal of all foliage within a hundred foot radius of the house.
Now your family, wife, kids and dogs are waiting in the driveway for you and grandpa to come out. The horn has beeped twice.
There is always a chance that your elders, whoever they are, may have a different idea about their chances in the situation staying put. They may even be entirely reasonable and rational, but that makes little difference: you think they should go, they think it would be best if you stayed. Impasse. Standoff. Showdown.
The precipice of disaster is no time for bickering. A decision must be made and the sooner the better. You might try begging, coercion and persuasion. You could threaten, cajole and extort. If you are bigger and stronger, you might even physically abscond with them and worry over Thanksgiving later. This is a prickly one.
Personal agency is an intensely guarded right, and when you have two nominally “in charge” people disagree over something as high-stakes and stressful as evacuation ahead of looming death and destruction tempers will flare. Accept it.
Bottom Line: you will have to make a decision and then act. Are you willing to potentially lose a relationship to possibly do what is best for someone? How strongly do you feel that people should be able to make their own decisions, no matter what others might think?
This is potentially the worst predicament to find yourself in with a senior because they are making a rational, informed decision, not being constrained by health, infirmity or anything else. If you do end up dealing with this situation, you have my sympathies.
Perhaps your only chance of heading this off ahead of time is to come to an agreement with the concerned parties ahead of time when fluffy clouds roll across an impossibly blue sky and birds are chirping. Stay or go, as a family/group. That might prevent a standoff.
If You Are a Senior
If you getting up in years, and perhaps have a partner or spouse about the same age, but have no one younger to count on when disaster strikes, family or otherwise, you’ll have to make some very tough decisions, and they should be the result of sound assessment of your capabilities.
If you and your spouse are infirm, ill or not particularly fit, bugging out via any kind of physically strenuous method will be even more perilous, perhaps impossible. Seniors are also significantly more vulnerable to human predation.
Face it: no matter how good a shape you are in, and how quick you may still be, the odds are not in your favor in a fight.
If you are still able to drive, vehicular extraction is your best option, but it will be limited by all the possible obstacles discussed here and elsewhere. It is not a sure thing, but your nest net will be to get out and ahead of a bad situation the moment you can to have the best chance of roads being passable.
And don’t forget to pick a suitable handgun that’s easy to maneuver, particularly if you have arthritis or other conditions.
Staying put and bugging in if you have no one to aid you is in all probability your best bet if you have confidence the event is survivable at your current location.
As I mentioned above, the majority of major crises will begin to stabilize after the first 48-72 hours, so if you want to double that and lay up enough supplies and provisions to last a week on your own grid-down, you will statistically be able to weather nearly any event.
Lastly, think solutions! If your biggest shortcoming as an aging prepper is that you just don’t have many social contacts you could count on when times are troubled, you can fix that!
Get active and known in your local church, or another group of like-minded people and make friends. Explain your concern and see if you cannot get a commitment from them to help in a bad situation.
You will have plenty to offer in return, perhaps special skills or wisdom. Whatever the case may be, cultivating social networks is just another skill you can put into practice at any age. Don’t take it lying down!
Going solo and being self-sufficient as a senior has unique challenges, but so long as you are capable of living independently they are beatable, you’ll just need to play to your strengths and against your weaknesses.
Please Don’t Do it…
Senior citizens have unique needs and physical limitations that will often complicate any bug-out plan. These limitations are not insurmountable, and some can be easily accommodated with a little extra pre-planning.
If you have elderly family or anticipate having to help an elderly neighbor when the SHTF, be sure your plans are taking them in to consideration.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.