One of the largest concerns during a disaster situation is when to evacuate. If you wait too long, you and along with thousands of others are making a mass exodus together. The amount of time a person leaves their home solely depends on how prepared they are and if an initial plan was set.
Some disasters cause evacuation orders for people to leave their homes and communities. For some, a state of panic will set in due to lack of preparedness. Having a predetermined plan in place a head of time will save time, money, energy and sometimes a life.
According to FEMA, evacuations are more common than we realize.
Hundreds of times each year, transportation and industrial accidents release harmful substances, forcing thousands of people to leave their homes on a moments notice.
Natural disasters such as fires, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes also cause evacuations. Almost once a year, people along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts evacuate in the face of approaching hurricanes.
Make a Plan!
A decisive plan of action should take into account the pros and cons of any given situation. Create a family based emergency plan so all family members know how to handle an emergency. Be objective and keep the main priorities to keep in mind are shelter, fire, and water/food. Always have Plan A, B and C – and stay focused at the task at hand.
Prepare Your Vehicle
When planning for an evacuation, look at your vehicle as your lifeline. Having a vehicle that is well stocked and evacuation ready is your ticket to a less chaotic and stressful encounter. Have this evacuation checklist on hand to ensure you have everything you need.
Here are 5 ways to prepare for and maintain your evacuation vehicle:
1. Have vehicle bug out supplies. Keep your basic survival needs in mind and plan to have enough supplies for 3 days. The items chosen should be light weight and functional so that, if need be, carrying the kit will not be a strain due to unnecessary items. Initially, the most important part of preparing is to have a well thought out a plan. This plan should be in place before you evacuate. In addition, if you have children, have some child friendly activities or books packed away to keep their attention diverted. There is nothing more excruciating than the question, “Are we there yet?”
2. Keep your vehicle properly maintained. That means checking and changing the oil on a regular basis, ensuring the tires are inflated, brakes are working, the headlights work, and that the vehicle has been inspected. This is pretty self explanatory. Whatever vehicle is chosen for evacuation reasons needs to be at optimum performance.
3. Keep your gas tank full. When my vehicle gets to half full, I typically fill it up. Not only does this ensure that I could get a far distance from my home, but it also saves on gas money. Not to mention, in a evacuation scenario, the lines to the gas stations are going to be filled with frustrated individuals which could lead to run ins, thus delaying your evacuation further.
4. Make sure you have extra navigational items. Items such as GPS, maps and compasses included in your vehicle evacuation supplies can ensure that you know where to go and how to get there. To take this a step further, having non-electric navigational items can also help if your electric circuits are disrupted.
5. Have multiple pre-planned evacuation locations. Road blocks, heavy congestion, and even car accidents can delay your evacuation and having a plan A, B, or C will keep your options open. Therefore, create multiple escape routes that do not require you to travel through any major cities that are largely populated – this will cut down on traffic jams. Before you leave, listen to the radio and the news to see which highways are open and plan accordingly. In addition to pre-planned evacuation routes, find evacuation routes that you would have to take on foot. No one wants to think about evacuating on foot, but it could be your only option in some cases.
Evacuating from a home due to a fire or flood - If a home evacuation is in order, there is little time to collect belongings. Some experts say a person has 10 minutes or less to collect needed items. Prepare a list a head of time of the items that would need to be taken such as photo albums, identification (birth certificates, social security cards, financial documents, wills/deeds, and medical insurance information), proof of address, as well as items for a 72 hour bag. Dividing the duties between family members will make this situation more efficient as well as make better use of time.
Household Emergency Evacuation Plan
Draw a blue print of the home and then draw an evacuation route and a meeting place.
Make one drawing for each story of the home. Keep this in a area of the home where members of the family can see and review often.
If the home is more than one story, have an emergency ladder or rope to use as a secondary evacuation method.
Have maps ready for the closest evacuation centers, main and alternative route for leaving the city in North, South, East and West directions. Driving the routes a head of time can determine the best ways of arriving at the determined location.
Meet up spots outside the affected areas if a family is separated and not traveling together.
Designate person outside of the area as a primary contact for the family.
If there is time, shut off main gas valves to the home.
Evacuating a Community – Community evacuations normally provide a person with more time to prepare their homes and collect belongings, but this is not always the case. The faster a person begins traveling to their destination the better chance of dodging traffic and any unnecessary stressful situations. If a person can evacuate before a mandatory evacuation has been announced, the better off they will be.
Community Evacuation Plan
Plan the evacuation - Have maps on hand with the planned route already made.
Have a Plan B – In the event that certain roads are closed, have an alternate evacuation route.
Have a place to meet - If a family is not all together when an evacuation is ordered, having a predetermined meeting place will allow the members to reunite and travel to their primary location. Make sure each of the family members knows the meet up spot.
Choose a location to stay – When evacuations are ordered, some go to hotels to wait the disaster out, some flee to family or friend’s homes that are outside the affected area. Where ever that location is, make sure that if need be, staying there for a longer amount of time is alright. If a person goes to a hotel, bring extra money in case staying there longer is needed.
What is the emergency evacuation procedures for children’s schools? Will they be taken someone else? Can you get them?
Is there a full tank of gas (and extra gas if needed)?
If there are possible dangers or bad weather elements, can a person stay safe and protected?
Is there an alternate route or escape route?
Leave early enough to avoid any traffic.
Follow recommended evacuation routes.
If possible, try and stay off of main highways feeding into the city.
If a person or family has no means of transportation and realize that walking is the only option:
What is the route that will be taken?
What is the distance walked each day?
Where will each person sleep?
Does the person have a method of signaling in case of emergency?
Does the person walking realize that extra food and water will be needed to compensate for the extra needed energy from walking?
Is the person properly dressed for this type of traveling?
If the person follows the main highway system out of town, there could be a lot of trouble that could occur. Can the person defend themselves?
Does the person have an escape route?
Evacuating With Pets
The Humane Society encourages all pet owners to take their pets along when a evacuation is ordered. According to the Humane Society, “many pets who are turned loose or left behind to fend for themselves are likely to become victims of starvation, predators, contaminated food or water, accidents or exposure to elements.” Many evacuation shelters do not accept pets, so plan accordingly. Preparing a three day or 72 hour kit pet kit will keep the pets as safe as possible.
Evacuating a home or community is a stressful situation for many who are unprepared for this possibility. Following the correct protocals by having a family emergency plan, a decided meeting place, pre-established traveling routes and maps can help alleviate this tension high situation.