September 28, 2021

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See who won Berkeleyside’s ‘go bag’ photo contest

5 min read
Go bag photos submitted by Berkeleyside readers.

We asked Berkeleyside readers to tell us what’s in your “go bag” — the emergency backpack filled with the survival supplies you need to flee a wildfire — and you responded with photos of your bags and suggestions for what to pack. 

Read the Berkeley Wildfire Guide.

You let us know that you’ve followed the advice of our wildfire guide to bring water, food, flashlights, toiletries, chargers, smoke-protective masks, a printed map of Berkeley, a hand-cranked weather radio and more. “​​No need to personalize this,” one reader told us. “It’s for function, yo.”

But while basic survival guided the packing of all of your bags, many of you also emphasized sentimental items like family photos and other non-essentials that give meaning. Patrice Baskerville packed dried fruit, “delicious chocolates, some edibles” and a bottle of Tanqueray. Rachel Hope Crossman included her notebook and pen “because as a writer, I will need to chronicle my escape.” And Patrick Casey put an Aeropress in his bag “because if you can’t have good coffee, what’s the point in living?” 

You thought about visibility. “My dad worked [as] a city sewer employee before he retired so I have his reflective vest in there,” Darrell Owens told us. And you considered your capabilities. Patricia Berne is packing a “rope that can bear the weight of my wheelchair and me.”

We were pleased to see that you haven’t neglected your animal companions. Anita Medal’s 85-pound dog Rio — part Great Dane, part black Lab — will carry his own water in his red backpack. While Sari Hale-Alper is planning ahead to carry her cat Bean’s survival supplies in a lightweight bag complete with “comfort items like a calming spray, a soft cloth that smells like me, and a compression jacket,” as well as “a litter box to minimize his discomfort.” “Don’t forget— your pets need bags, too!” reminded Hale-Alper.   

It was hard to decide which of you took the best go bag photo in Berkeley, but we did our best.

Winner: Mabel Lam

Credit: Mabel Lam

The winner of our “go bag” photo contest is Mabel Lam, who impressed us with her photo composition skills: pocket tissues, a coil of rope and a package of dehydrated chicken Alfredo pasta arranged at an intriguing angle against two fantastic rugs — the top rug the same shade as the packaged pasta, with brightly colored tassels bringing out the green in Lam’s safety lightstick and the yellow in her pouches of emergency drinking water. 

Lam will get a free Blue Pure 211+ air purifier, which has been donated by Blueair, to help filter her home’s air of wildfire smoke.

She lives in Berkeley’s flatland, several blocks west of the city’s high-risk hillside fire zones, but preparation is still important to her. “The last few years, things have become a lot more unpredictable,” she said. “It’s unlikely I’ll be immediately affected living in the flatlands, but you just never know. … You should have peace of mind.” 

Kasenyi. Credit: Mabel Lam

An avid backpacker, Lam said she packed her go bag as “a scaled-down reflection of what I would need to be self-supported in the outdoors.” Chapstick, she said, is key. And, like other Berkeleyside readers, she’s included supplies for her cat Kasenyi, who she adopted in 2017 after an Oakland adoption center put out a call saying they needed people to take in cats to free up space for animals needing refuge during the Wine Country fires.

Lam said getting her family to take the risks of living in California seriously has been a challenge. “I often get a response from them trying to brush it off — ‘No, no, no, if a natural disaster happens, we’ll just go to our local library emergency center and we’ll be taken care of.’ I think the pandemic has really made me see that things can be disorganized when it comes down to it, and I want to do what I can to support myself.” 

Runner-up: Patrick Casey

Credit: Patrick Casey

Patrick Casey will get this $8 emergency whistle we bought online. Here’s what he had to say about his go bag:

Priority in packing my bag was given to living in the post wildfire environment and maximizing survivor community bargaining power.

1. Scarf to cover my face from ash.

2. Helmet to protect from falling buildings and objects.

3. Crowbar for mitigation of resonance cascade aftereffects. [Ed. note: This is a joke related to the video game Half-Life.]

4. Toilet paper for trading/bartering with other survivors.

5. Aeropress because if you can’t have good coffee, what’s the point in living?

6. Camera to document the destruction and mayhem and to sell photos to news agencies in surviving states.

7. Toothbrush: hygiene, duh.

8. Iodine tablets for water purification and protection from radiolytic iodine post fission product release. [Ed. note: This is not expected to happen during a wildfire, but you’re urged to have enough drinking water on hand to last three days.]

9. Flashlight: nighttime is scary and during a fire, it’s always night.

10. Satellite phone to organize resistance movement elements.

11. Compass because what good is a Boy Scout without one?

12. Shovel for digging foxholes.

13. Water bottle: for water.

14. Sunglasses to block the intensity of the flames.

15. Flash proof jacket: to be worn at all times.

16. Book for light reading and downtime. 

Honorable mention: Sari Hale-Alper

Credit: Sari Hale-Alper

We appreciated the consideration Sari Hale-Alper showed toward feline needs. Here’s what she had to say about her cat’s go bag:

This bag is for my cat, Bean! It includes all the food, water, hygiene, and safety supplies he’ll need for 72 hours — in a hotel, shelter, or at a friend’s house. While our family’s kits do have many things that will be helpful for Bean, cats have specific needs and I decided to make him his own bag, complete with kitty laser pointer.

The water is bagged to cut down on weight, and the food is stored in its original packaging to keep it edible for five years. There are comfort items like a calming spray, a soft cloth that smells like me, and a compression jacket. He has a litter box to minimize his discomfort and I put it all in a sturdy but lightweight bag with a crossbody strap since I’ll be wearing my own backpack.

The most important components are a copy of his rabies vaccination certificate in a waterproof envelope and a photo of me with him in case we get separated.

And there’s a small first aid kit I assembled that has styptic powder, vet wrap, syringe, gloves, tweezers, gauze, sting relief pads, and a few more essentials.

Don’t forget— your pets need bags, too! 

The best of the rest

Credit: Willis Lai
Credit: Amanda Joost
Credit: Patrice Baskerville

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