Unfortunately, there are times when an emergency evacuation from your home is absolutely necessary. When the time to evacuate comes, make sure you’re prepared with the information and emergency supplies you need. Here are some questions and information regarding emergency evacuation.
Question #1: Where should I go when I evacuate?
It’s wise to make a plan with your family to meet at a designated location or locations during an evacuation. You will want a destination far enough away to provide protection but preferably reachable on one tank of gas. Experience teaches us that in times of emergency the lines at gas stations are notoriously long and in the worst case, no gas is available to purchase. One to two hundred miles is usually a good distance, but in a huge storm you may need to go farther. If at all possible, don’t plan to rely on motels or hotels. They fill up quickly and often in such circumstances operate on a first-come, first-serve basis. It’s best if you have a friend or relative that you can stay with. Perhaps you could make a reciprocal arrangement with them so that they would also be welcomed at your home if they were forced to evacuate. If weather permits, a spot in a campground would probably suffice, especially if it offers restrooms and showers. If you have access to a vacation cabin away from the danger area, that would also be a good option. Some people prepare ahead of time by stashing extra supplies at such a place or in a closet storage unit close by. Bedding, clothing, toiletries, and extra drinking water are good items to store in such a place. Storing sleeping bags, blankets, seasonal clothing, and pillows in vacuumed bags will save space and have the additional advantage of being water and insect-proof. Having supplies away from home will also help if your home is destroyed in a fire or other disaster.
Question #2: What about a public shelter?
Sometimes this may be your only choice and you’ll be thrown together with strangers and in a high-stress situation. So, if you must go to one, take some precautions.. Keep your children and belongings with you at all times. If there are two adults present, make sure one stays with the children while the other goes to the restroom. Take turns on watch duty, even during the night. Don’t flash your emergency supplies or money around where all can see. Keep your car locked. On the other hand, if you see a real need and can share, quietly do so. Try to team up with other families to form a mini-community, and watch out for each other. Be a good citizen. Try to keep your children quiet and occupied. Don’t play loud music or talk loudly. Keep your area neat and don’t take up other people’s space.
Crises bring out both the best and the worst in people. Everyone will be stressed to one degree or another. Try to be a part of the solution rather than a problem. Only a few shelters accept pets, and if you have one with you, be extra sensitive to the needs of others and take responsibility for your animal. Take pets out as often as weather permits and discourage other people’s children from overwhelming your pet with attentions. Keep smaller animals in their carriers except when on a leash for exercise. Make sure your pet’s vaccinations are up-to-date. Ideally, a friend or relative who lives out of the danger area would keep your pet safe for a few days.
Question #3: How can I prepare my car for an evacuation?
Your car may be your new home for a while. A few small things may make all the difference. Keep a detailed map of your area in your car. A GPS device can be a lifesaver, but can also fail if it runs out of power. In the case of a mass evacuation, the main highways might be the most direct route to your chosen destination, but they may also be clogged with traffic. If you are familiar with alternative back roads, they might be a better choice. Practice using these routes ahead of time so that you’ll be familiar with them—especially if the weather is bad.
Keep your car in good condition and with at least a half-tank of gas at all times. If you drive a truck or a large SUV, three-quarters of a tank would be better. Make sure your tires are in good condition and that any regular maintenance is taken care of on time. Have an emergency auto kit to handle minor repairs and provide emergency supplies. Also remember to have a spare tire and jack. If you know a storm is approaching and you may need to evacuate, park your car facing the street so that the back is available for quick loading and you’re poised to pull right out without having to back out into traffic. Keep your keys in your pocket if evacuation seems likely and always have a "hide-a-key" in case you lose yours.
Question #4: What mental and emotional preparations can I make now to help my family?
If you have children, it’s a good idea to hold evacuation drills. These are much like fire drills except everyone can leave by way of the door closest to the car, picking up their emergency or evacuation kit on the way. Another good habit to develop with each child is clearing a path to the bedroom door as part of the bedtime routine, so there won’t be any tripping hazards to slow them down in the dark. A pair of shoes and a flashlight, or a chemical light stick beside each bed is also a good precaution for every family member.
Remember to review and update your emergency kit supplies regularly. April and October are good times for this because of seasonal changes. The season will influence the kit’s contents. If you don’t currently have emergency kits, consider buying pre-made kits or making your own. For more information see our [Insight Articles on Emergency Kits] and our [Kit Checklist].
Question #5: What if the nature of the emergency requires evacuation to be on foot rather than by car?
This is slow and more difficult, especially with children or the elderly, and you won’t be able to go as far. If it’s your only choice, go with it. Bicycles for everyone might seem like a good solution, but bikes can present as many problems as they solve. If you must walk, it would be good to have some kind of wheeled carrier for small children or to help transport packs. A sturdy wagon, stroller, shopping or laundry cart, luggage carrier, or a wheelchair could help in transporting your gear. For a small family, motorized bikes or scooters might be a good solution as they can maneuver around blockages and go quite far on a tank of gas. However, you would not be able to carry as much with you.
Question #6: What else should I think about?
If a possible evacuation is looming, be prepared ahead of time and leave as early as you possibly can to avoid the rush of evacuees. Many people try to stay at home for as long as possible, hoping they won’t need to leave; Hurricane Katrina taught us the lack of wisdom in that approach.
If you have to leave your home for an extended period of time, it’s important to leave your house in good order. Just packing up and leaving can put your home at risk of damage you don't want to come home to. Frozen pipes in cold weather will cause an indoor flood, and fires can leave your house in ashes. When you practice your evacuation plan with your family, go through a checklist of turning off all lights and appliances (everything but the refrigerator), and, in cold weather, turning on your faucets to a slow drip (to prevent the pipes from freezing). Show your family where the house's central switches and valves are for turning off all of the utilities in case main city pipes have been damaged by the emergency.
Be pro-active, prepare ahead of time, and don’t lag behind hoping to be rescued if things get really bad. If they do, emergency services will be overwhelmed and possibly unavailable for days or weeks. Organization and planning are the keys to a successful evacuation.
Take some time to think about things that would be crucial to you should you have to be self-reliant for a few days or a week. Plan to have the following supplies for you and your family: Water, food, warmth and shelter, extra clothing (shoes, hat, coat, gloves, rain gear, etc.), light sources like flashlights or headlamps, tools, first aid, medications, communication, personal sanitation, money, important papers, stress relievers, and a car preparedness kit.
By having a plan of action and your supplies ready you will be better able to survive an emergency. Remember what the former director of the National Hurricane Center, Max Mayfield, said: "Preparation through education is less costly than learning through tragedy."