Accidental Bugout


Sam gazed into the back of his Suburban in deep thought. He was mentally going through a checklist that included all the items that he and his family would need for a weeklong camping trip in Navasota. His eyes drifted from the folded chairs, to duffle bags of clothes to the new canvas tent and more than enough food and snacks to feed an army. He reached for the door to close it when he heard the sirens in the distance.


Sam stood still as he focused on the siren. It was getting louder and kept repeating. It was what he feared, a shelter in place siren. One of the local plants must have had a chemical leak.


He slammed the door shut and ran inside to get Julie and Jon. If they didn’t leave now, they could be stuck for a few hours, delaying getting on the road and starting the family camping trip.


Julie was already grabbing the bag that would ride in the front seat with her when Sam walked in and said, “We need to get going now!” Julie responded, “I heard the siren. Jon is getting his backpack.”


Sam shut down the air condition as he walked to check the backdoor one more time. As he was walking toward the front door, he grabbed the bugout bags in the front closet. He put them in the Suburban and jumped in the driver’s seat. Julie asked, “why did you grab the bugout bags?” “It might be a good idea to test out some of our gear this week,” Sam responded.


Sam drove up Center street and went East on Hwy 225. The sirens fainted in the distance until they passed the Phillips 66 terminal. At that point, another siren was heard blaring from the plant.


Sam and Julie looked at each other in surprise. “Have we ever had two chemical leaks from two different plants at one time,” Julie asked? “Not that I remember,” said Sam.


Julie turned on the radio and pushed the 6th button. The radio jumped to 88.7 FM, the emergency channel for Deer Park, La Porte and Pasadena. The recording was repeating, “There has been a chemical leak at the Phillips 66 plant. There has been a chemical leak at the Lyondell plant. Please shelter in place. Stay tuned for more information.”


“We got out just in time,” Julie said with a little grin. “It sure looks like that” responded Sam.


As they approached 610 North, another siren went off by the Goodyear plant. Sam and Julie looked at each other. Julie’s grin was gone. Three chemical leaks in one day wasn’t a coincidence.


Julie turned the radio to the AM band and tuned into 700 AM, her favorite news channel. The Emergency Alert System had been activated. It was an annoying sound that even had Jon asking to turn the volume down. After the buzzing, a voice came over the radio that said, “The Emergency Broadcast System has been activated for residents in East Houston, Pasadena, La Porte, Deer Park and Channel View. At this time a shelter in place order has been declared. Five plants in the area have had chemical leaks. Please stay in your homes, close your windows and turn off your AC. Please do not call 911 or other emergency phone numbers unless it is a true emergency. Please stay tuned for more information.”


Sam gripped the steering wheel a little tighter and seemed to be deep in thought. Julie jumped on her cellphone and opened up Facebook. She went to the neighborhood Facebook page to see if anyone had posted anything of interest. The page was filled with people asking questions and wondering how long the shelter in place order would last. A few people said it was an attack. Some said it was an event to distract from what was happening in the economy. But there weren’t any real answers to what was happening and why five plants had a chemical leak on the same day around the same time.


By the time the family had hit Hwy 290 West, the announcer on the radio reported that all five plants had computer glitches that caused equipment to disregard safeguards and release chemicals into the air.


Sam thought, “at least they know computer glitches caused the leak. But it is just weird that it would happen in five different plants.” He released his grip on the steering wheel a little.


Julie kept the radio on 700 AM. As they approached Brenham, the Emergency Alert System sounded again. Julie reached for the volume and turned it up.


“We can now report that twelve other plants have had chemical leaks including plants in Beaumont, Baytown and Baycity. Residents are being asked to shelter in place. The Federal government is working with local law enforcement and plant officials to determine how 17 plants experienced chemical leaks on the same day. Residents are urged to stay tuned to 700 AM for up to the minute news on this unfolding situation.”


“Do you think it was terrorism?” asked Julie. “I don’t know. It sure sounds like it,” responded Sam. “Whatever it is, I’m glad we are going to be away for a week. I would hate to be stuck at home for days. The whole Eastside has to be one big cloud of nastiness.” he said.


“Yeah, I’m glad we made it out in time,” Julie said. “I hope these computer glitches or whatever is causing this doesn’t start happening on a regular basis,” she continued.


Sam drove up to the visitor center at the campground. He had his confirmation number, but didn’t have his campsite number. The young person behind the counter explained that every campsite had a pad where the tent would be pitched. She asked, “how big of a tent do you have?” Sam responded, “It’s 13×16.” “Oh, that’s a big one” she responded. “It’s a new canvas tent that we are trying out,” Sam explained.


Sam almost skipped back to the Suburban. He couldn’t wait to try out the new canvas tent.


The drive to the campsite took 8 minutes at the posted 10 miles an hour speed. Jon, ready to get out of the vehicle, could hardly contain himself. They passed the lake with the paddle boats, saw campers fishing and noticed the big slide at the roped off section for swimming.


Sam backed into the campsite so they could easily unload. The first thing down was the oversized tarp that he was going to use as a ground cover. The tent didn’t didn’t have a bottom, so the tarp would allow them to walk around the tent with their shoes off.


Sam had already looked over the instructions on how to assemble the tent at home. He had also watched some videos and felt comfortable he and Julie could do it together.


Julie reviewed the instructions while Sam pulled out the poles and separated them between the sides and the tops. In a short time, the frame of the tent was erected and Sam and Julie were pulling over the canvas tent. Sam went around the tent and opened up the 6 screened windows while Julie opened the ridge vents.


Jon couldn’t believe how big the tent was. This was a way different experience than camping in the old dome tent they used to use.



Sam and Julie moved in the cots and arranged two in the far corners and one in the middle at the far end. Jon would sleep in the middle.


Julie unpacked the sheets. It was too warm for sleeping bags, but the crosswind from the windows would let the breeze in at night and make it very comfortable.


Sam was able to bring everything into the tent with room to spare. He also arranged the folding chairs around the campfire area. This would be a spot where the family would sit around the fire and just enjoy the night. But until then, there was fun to be had!


Sam turned to Jon and asked, “what do you want to do first Jon? Do you want to go fishing or swimming?” Jon jumped while he yelled, “swimming! I want to try out that slide.” Sam and Jon changed while Julie grabbed a book she was looking forward to read.


They all walked down to the lake, towels, snacks and book in tow. Sam and Jon removed their shirts and left them with Julie. She found a nice spot under a tree to sit and read. She opened up her book and took a deep breath. The day started very chaotic, but it was starting to slow down and the family was in for a week of fun and relaxation.