Unfortunately, there are times when an emergency evacuation from your home is absolutely necessary. When the time to evacuate comes be sure to have your items ready-to-go and that you are prepared. Here are some questions and information regarding emergency evacuation.
Question #1: Where should I go when I have to evacuate?
A good family planning meeting to try to identify various destinations, depending upon what the emergency situation is, is a wise thing to do. If you live close to water and a hurricane is expected, remember that such storms tend to turn north and possibly east once they come ashore. Plan your route and try to flee southwestward, if possible. 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, do not plan to rely on motels or hotels, as they fill up quickly and often in such circumstances do not honor reservations but operate on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you have a friend or relative that you can descend upon and be welcomed, that would be best. Perhaps you could make a reciprocal arrangement with them so that they would also be welcomed at your home if they encountered a need to leave. If the weather is good enough, a spot in a campground would probably suffice, especially if it offers restrooms and showers. If you're lucky enough to have access to a vacation cabin away from the danger area, that would be ideal. Some people prepare ahead of time by stashing extra supplies at such a place or in a closet storage unit close by. Bedding, clothing, and 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 allow much more to be stored in a small space, and have the additional advantage of being water and insect-proof. This is a good idea even if you store your gear at home, and you can grab it along with your emergency kit.
Question #2: What about a public shelter?
Sometimes this may be your only choice, but if you must go to one, take some precautions, as you will be thrown together with strangers and in a high stress situation. 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, and 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. Try to keep him from barking, howling, meowing or walking freely. Take him out often enough when the weather permits and discourage other people's children from overwhelming him with attention, especially if he is nervous around children or strangers. Keep smaller animals in their carriers except when on a leash for exercise. Make sure ahead of time that any pet is up-to-date on its vaccinations. A friend or relative who lives out of the danger area and who would keep your pet safe for a few days would be ideal.
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, although it does run off your car's electrical system, which could fail, so be sure to have a map. 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, so 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 important 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 both minor repairs and other emergency supplies. Also remember to be sure you 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 and turn. Keep your keys in your pocket if evacuation seems likely and always have a "hid-a-key" in case you lose yours.
Question #4: What mental and emotional preparations can I do now to help my family?
A good idea if you have children is to hold evacuation drills - much like a fire drill except that everyone can leave by way of the door closest to the car and pick up their emergency or evacuation kit on the way. Another good habit to develop with each child is to make clearing a path to the bedroom door a part of the bedtime ritual along with brushing teeth, prayers, or stories, so that there will be no tripping hazards to slow anyone 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 to do this because for most people these months are just prior to major change in upcoming weather which would influence the kit's contents.
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, but if it's your only choice, go with it. Bicycles for everyone might seem a 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?
It is essential to remember that if a possible evacuation is looming, be prepared ahead of time and leave as early as you possibly can to avoid the rush. Many people try to stay at home for as long as possible, hoping the need to leave will not really materialize, but if nothing else, Hurricane Katrina taught us the lack of wisdom in that approach. 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 ponder and think about things that would be crucial to you should you have to be self reliant for a few days or a week. Ponder these things relative to individual family members: Water, food, warmth and shelter, extra clothing (shoes, hat, coat, gloves, rain gear, etc.), light sources, tools, first aid, medications, communication, personal sanitation, money, important papers, stress relievers and auto preparedness.
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."