Disasters are happening somewhere on Earth at any given time pretty much every day. Disaster can strike at any time, and will often catch people by surprise. In the event of a disaster, it is important to have an emergency evacuation plan in place.
This plan will help you to safely evacuate your home or workplace in the event of a wildfire, tornado, or other disasters.
In this article, we will discuss how to make an emergency evacuation plan and how to practice it.
We will also explore why evacuation is necessary, what disasters mandate evacuation, and what might go wrong if an evacuation is poorly executed.
Table of Contents
Why is Evacuation Sometimes Necessary?
In the event of certain disasters and emergencies, evacuation may be necessary to avoid injury or death.
Disasters that may require evacuation include wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, and earthquakes. But it is not just natural disasters that require an evacuation.
Some smaller-scale but deadly emergencies like house fires and intense, localized rioting also likely mandate evacuation.
Some events are just so dangerous and so impossible to control that to remain in place in the affected area is tantamount to suicide.
This is not to say that people should not be prepared and able to ride out trouble where they are.
Far from it, and indeed there are many situations where buckling down and bugging in are far more preferable to evacuating.
But on the other hand, you should not be so proud or so in love with your possessions that you risk throwing your life away in a foolish attempt to minimize loss in the face of certain destruction.
In short, if you are ordered to evacuate by authorities, it is important to do so immediately. Do not wait to see if the situation improves, as it could quickly become worse.
What Events Mandate Evacuation?
Before we get into assembling our evacuation plan, it is good to know what sorts of events are highly likely to dictate you evacuate if they are going to affect your area or are generally heading your way.
Like most things, there is a significant amount of nuance in assessing the need to evacuate in the face of any of the following events. We will talk more about those specifics under each subhead.
The following disasters typically mandate evacuation if they are at all likely to affect your area:
Wildfires are fast-moving, unpredictable, and immensely destructive, leaving nothing but bodies and charred wreckage behind in the areas that they sweep through.
Despite the best efforts of valiant firefighters, wildfires often go out of control and completely confound all attempts to control, contain or douse them.
Related Post: How to Survive a Wildfire
Few disasters are as lethal as wildfires if you are overtaken by them, and though there are always some homeowners who tried to stay behind and keep their homes from burning up in the path of these events, precious few succeed.
Most will instead die in the attempt. If your area is likely going to be hit by a wildfire, you must evacuate and evacuate early. Take no chances!
A house fire is seemingly less destructive than a wildfire, but only to the people who have a house that is currently not engulfed in flames.
House fires are common, quite literally daily occurrences, causing billions of dollars in damage every year and thousands of deaths.
Related Post: How to Survive a House Fire
An electrical malfunction or small accidental fire in the home can turn into a raging conflagration within seconds. You have no hope of controlling this fire after the structure is fully engulfed.
Escaping the house fire is your only chance in this case, and in the aftermath, deprived of your home and pretty much all of your possessions, you’ll need to evacuate.
Out of all the natural disasters that are likely to occur, it is hurricanes that inflict the most damage over the widest area, year in and year out. Hurricane Katrina, Sandy, and Andrew are just a few reminders that hurricane preparedness can make the difference between life and death.
Any hurricane is a proper disaster, but major ones are genuine catastrophes, causing widespread flooding, massive property damage and completely reshaping landscapes.
Although it is possible to ride out a “near miss” from a weaker hurricane, a direct hit or even regional landfall from the larger storms means you are taking your life into your own hands.
The good news is you’ll often have a week or at least days’ worth of notice that a hurricane is likely heading to your area, and so you have no excuse for not evacuating when you can. The longer you wait, the worse it is likely to be.
These are another massive storm event, although they inflict damage over a far narrower area than hurricanes.
Typically spawned from powerful thunderstorm systems, tornadoes are the most powerful sustained wind events on Earth, with the most powerful examples being capable of utterly demolishing even heavy buildings and lifting cars and other vehicles like toys.
Do you know how to survive a tornado? Generally, you will not have enough advance notice of a tornado’s approach to evacuate ahead of time, but you should have notice enough that you need to get to a good shelter.
It is after the passage of a tornado that you will generally want to evacuate as there won’t be much left standing that can support you.
5. Severe Flooding
Flooding is the most common disaster that occurs around the globe. Anywhere that it can rain, anywhere that can receive rainwater, can flood often with disastrous consequences.
Although they seem far less spectacular than other disasters on this list, floods are immensely destructive, completely cutting electrical service to an affected area, making travel impossible, and inundating a region with black, murky water containing sewage, chemicals, dead bodies, and more.
Knowing what to do if a flood is imminent is essential, as this is one of those disasters where you want to get out while the getting is good as evacuation might be impossible once the water has risen too high.
Earthquakes are one disaster that typically strikes completely without warning or advance notice.
One moment, things are normal. The next moment, a destructive shaking, rolling, and cracking of the ground is quite literally changing the landscape beneath you.
Earthquakes are one of those disasters that are likely to completely disrupt every public utility and severely hamper rescue efforts owing to block roads, downed power lines, ruptured gas lines, and more.
Buildings that, somehow, remain standing in the aftermath of a massive earthquake might not stay that way for long, so it is imperative that you get out and get away as quickly as you can, but you’ll need to watch out for aftershocks while you do.
Find out more in our article on how to survive an earthquake.
7. Chemical Spill
Not all disasters are natural in origin. Some result from the activities and various artifacts of mankind, usually originating from our industrial endeavors.
Chemical plants, refineries, factories, and more dot the landscape from coast to coast, and many of them make use or handle extraordinarily hazardous chemical substances.
These substances, should they be loosed into the surrounding environment via accident, sabotage or as a result of some other disaster could prove deadly.
Hideously contaminating the very air you breathe or the water you drink, many of them can kill if you ingest a tiny amount, and many more can result in lifelong health problems like increased cancer risk.
If there’s a chemical spill in your area and there is any chance you will be in or might wind up in the affected area, you must evacuate at once.
8. Nuclear Accident
Nuclear power is a great thing, and arguably one of the only good things to result from the dawning age of the atom.
Nuclear power is extremely safe with an excellent track record, but when things go wrong, they really go wrong.
A nuclear power plant that suffers a severe accident or is perhaps attacked by terrorists might result in the release of radioactive material over a wide area.
Radiation is an insidious threat, something you cannot see, smell, taste or feel until it is too late, but it can make you gravely sick or kill you all the same.
If you learn of a nuclear accident or other incidents in your area, you might have a very limited window to evacuate before you need to shelter in place.
When Should You Evacuate?
Knowing when you should evacuate is just as important as knowing what you should evacuate from.
Like many things in life, timing is everything when it comes to evacuation.
The very best possible outcome when facing a disaster is that you can evacuate well before you are in any danger, and despite whatever inconvenience you might encounter as a result you and your family will wind up completely unharmed, safe and sound.
The next best option is to evacuate after the disaster has passed, whether or not it has directly affected your home or immediate area.
If your town or surrounding region has been badly impacted, it is highly likely that you’ll be going without utilities or regular access to food, water, and other supplies. Most major disasters cause the disruption of commerce and other services.
Evacuation will allow you to reach a place that is unaffected or relatively unaffected by these disruptions.
The last thing you should try, and only if you have no other choice, is to attempt evacuation when a disaster is very near.
This should only be done when you have absolutely no other choice or when your current location affords you basically no protection from whatever is happening. Trying to run only to be overtaken is fraught with peril, as you might imagine.
Generally, if you are notified or learn of an incoming disaster, be it a hurricane, severe storm system, wildfire or anything else and authorities advocate for evacuation you should listen to them.
However, you must never act according to their orders if your own common sense says otherwise!
If you know that danger is too near to risk evacuation safely, or that following any other instructions could lead to harm, you should decide against it.
Similarly, if your own good sense tells you that you have plenty of time to evacuate ahead of an encroaching situation you might try to get out of the area despite a shelter-in-place order.
The Perils of Evacuation
Evacuation is almost always done to save lives. But if it’s not done right or is poorly timed it can also be dangerous.
For instance, evacuating days ahead of the landfall of a major hurricane is just going to be a long, slow and boring road trip.
Attempting to do the same thing when landfall is ongoing and the eye of the storm is a few scant tens of miles from your home is going to be an experience you will never forget- if you survive it!
No one will argue that being caught in a motor vehicle is a far worse position than being in a building, wherever that home or structure might be.
Similarly, some events are so dangerous and so destructive that being caught underway, on foot or in a vehicle, is virtually a death sentence. Wildfires are one good example, tornadoes are another.
It is also possible, depending on the event, that without good information and current intelligence on the overall situation you might be facing an “out of the frying pan and into the fire” sort of situation.
Leaving one area that you perceive to be in danger for another area that you perceive to be safer only to find out that your rendezvous point or destination is worse off than the place you left is emotionally devastating and might prove to be a fatal mistake.
Sometimes you will have all the information you need to make a good decision prior to setting off. Other times you will not. Sometimes every choice you make under the circumstances will be calculated risk.
Sadly, one must also consider the consequences of joining a massive throng of evacuees. Fear, uncertainty, lack, loss, and aggravation make for a deadly cocktail in any group of people.
It rarely fails that you will see people lose their tempers, and occasionally resort to violence to settle problems or perceived slights under the circumstances.
Unless you are willing to strike out on your own path, you might well be among a bunch of hot heads waiting to blow.
Nonetheless, though evacuation is not necessarily a 100% safe “get out of jail free card” when disaster approaches, having an emergency evacuation plan is still absolutely indispensable. We will talk about the specifics in the very next section.
Crafting Your Emergency Evacuation Plan
Now that we’ve discussed the importance of evacuation and some of the dangers associated with it, let’s talk about how to make a plan.
Answer the following questions and you’ll be most of the way towards assembling a practical, workable emergency evacuation plan whenever you need it.
Who Are You Responsible For?
This is the number one concern of every reader with a family in the audience, or at least for most of them.
Everybody has someone that they care about, and many of us have people we are genuinely responsible for.
This could be our spouses, children, elderly parents, or perhaps friends or neighbors who are just going to need a hand when the chips are down.
It is vital that you understand what you will do ahead of time when the need to evacuate arises.
Are you only going to worry about your immediate family? Are you going to wait to evacuate until you have at least made contact with the people you care about?
What you don’t want to happen is to be caught doing the Chinese fire drill when you should be getting underway to reach minimum safe distance.
If you don’t have anyone that you are particularly responsible for helping evacuate, then you will be logistically in a better place than those who do.
Individuals or duos can always react and move quicker than larger contingents of people, and everything from transportation to supply issues will be made much simpler.
How and Where Will You Rally?
This question assumes that you do have people you’re responsible for in your life.
Most emergency and disaster planning makes the mistake of assuming that a family or other group of people who will be evacuating together will, arbitrarily, all be in the same place at the same time when the call goes out, and subsequently will be able to depart together.
Reality is far different. People have jobs, people go to school, people are pursuing hobbies or interests or responsibilities.
Chances are actually high that you and yours will not be in the same place at the same time when it is time to evacuate.
Therefore, it is imperative that you pre-plan your evacuation response with these people and designate rally points where people will gather immediately, within a certain amount of time, prior to evacuation.
This is further complicated by the fact that communications with individual members could be severed, and that greatly complicates such efforts to rally as quickly as possible prior to evacuation.
Often overlooked, an emergency communication plan will help you and your family members stay connected and coordinate the evacuation efforts.
Other contingencies must be put into place, at least with the most important people in your life:
- If children are at school, should they stay there and wait for Mom and Dad to pick them up?
- Should older children who drive or have other forms of transportation attempt to return home?
- For friends, neighbors, or relatives who are not in the home are they meeting you or are you meeting them?
- How much time will you give them prior to departure and how will you attempt to link up later if at all?
It sounds like a lot to consider, and it is, but these are the questions that must be answered if you want a fully realized and holistic emergency evacuation plan.
Where Are You Going?
You must know where you are going prior to evacuation. “Away” is not good enough.
You must know where the danger is coming from, where it is likely to go, and how bad the effects will be when it gets down the road a little ways. Ideally, you want to be totally clear of all danger when you reach your destination.
If you are following emergency evacuation procedures laid down by authorities, they will likely advise you where to go, how to get there and by what route.
Otherwise, it is in your best interest to know all major and secondary routes in and out of your home in every direction.
In cases of major evacuation efforts, many routes will become hopelessly clogged very quickly, gravely slowing your progress.
With certain events, like hurricanes, might prove to be more annoying than anything else as you’ll have plenty of time before the storm arrives if you act quickly.
Should it happen in something fast-moving like wildfire, it could prove to have lethal consequences.
Whatever the case, getting to where you are going quickly is always a virtue, so try to make that happen.
How Will You Get There?
When most folks think of evacuation, they naturally think of piling into the family car or other vehicles and then hitting the road at best speed.
This is usually a good choice, but sometimes you might not have a choice and your vehicles could be out of action, immobilized, or roads simply rendered impassable.
In that case, what will you do? Can you actually get away in time on foot, and get far enough away? How fast can you go and what can you carry? Can everyone in your group handle traveling on foot for any distance?
Most people, sadly, cannot, young children and the elderly or infirm foremost among them.
One should also consider alternative methods of evacuation if you are in a pinch and can arrange transport or have an alternate vehicle.
A capable motorboat on a river is as good as a super highway compared to clogged interstate traffic.
People with private aircraft can easily and quickly fly away from danger with enough notice.
Perhaps you could board a bus or motor coach that is designated to carry evacuees to a safe place. Where there is a will, there is a way.
Although you should plan on using your personally owned vehicle if you can you should also take pains to keep your vehicle expertly maintained and in tip-top shape if you want to rely on it in a disaster.
Where Will You Stay When You Get There?
Getting away to a safe place is only part of the equation when it comes to emergency evacuations. Finding a place to stay, to actually live, once you get there is the other part.
Your first thought might be to simply bunker down in a hotel or motel, but the odds are every such business and the immediate region will be completely clogged with people doing the same thing you are, and they’ll be rendered exorbitantly expensive or booked shut.
Will you plan on camping at a campground as an interim option, or truly roughing it just staying in your car?
People who have access to an RV and have the wherewithal to get it where they are going will basically enjoy a home away from home for the duration although these vehicles have many disadvantages when evacuating, namely their size and significant fuel consumption.
Perhaps the best option is to head directly to a friend’s or relatives’ house in a safe place that can provide you a familiar and welcoming environment to gather your senses and plan your next move.
This is not an option for everyone, but you should not hesitate to make use of the charity of locals who willingly receive evacuees from hard-hit disaster areas.
How Long Will You Need To Stay?
What is the expected duration of the evacuation? Difficult to say in most circumstances, but you can make an informed guess based on the intensity of the disaster or situation at hand.
If you are dealing with a disaster that ravages your town and the surrounding area, something like a Category 5 hurricane, direct strike from an EF5 tornado, or the all-consuming flame of a wildfire your entire life will probably be turned upside down for some time.
You might well consider moving somewhere else and simply starting over if able.
On the other hand, if you have fled a severe emergency like a house fire, chemical spill, or something similar you’ll likely need to wait for the immediate area to be secured and made safe before returning home to pick up the pieces, if any, and then deal with the cleanup in the aftermath.
You might be able to move into new accommodations fairly quickly if rentals are available in your area, in your price range, and amicable to your family needs.
You might evacuate only to find out that, by luck or providence, your home area was spared the worst brunt of the disaster or spared entirely, meaning all you need to do is go home and do a little bit of unpacking, happily.
In such cases, you only need to wait for the danger to pass completely before returning.
Generally, the longer you must stay an evacuee, the better equipped you should be. We will talk about that in just a moment.
What Hazards Will You Encounter?
It is critical that you understand what hazards you might encounter while evacuating. If you are fleeing from a hurricane, could the outer bands of the storm make travel by road hazardous?
Flooding can turn bridges into death traps and sweep away vehicles with just a few inches of moving water.
Similarly, a chemical spill or similar industrial accident could taint the air and turn it into a lethal fume.
Typically, getting away quickly enough, and early enough will solve all problems, but you aren’t going to be taking a trouble-free joyride, here.
The route you take might be long and remote, and getting stranded on it could be an emergency situation all its own. There is no end to the trouble that might occur while you are traveling.
Do you have a plan to counter this trouble?
Are you able to repair any automotive problems on the side of the road or have reliable contact with someone that can rescue you if you get stranded?
Is there any special protective gear you need?
Think things through, and don’t be so quick to pile into the car and put the pedal to the metal or else you might blunder into another situation that could prove to be just as bad as the one you are running from.
What Supplies Will You Take?
If you have any say in the matter, you will be wise to take vital supplies and gear with you when you evacuate.
Now, it is sometimes true that the urgency of evacuation is quite pressing and you will literally have to grab yourself and your loved ones before running for your lives.
But as we have discussed above many disasters that mandate an evacuation will afford you some notice in our modern era.
You would be foolish to not take advantage of this advanced warning to better your position ahead of time!
One of those great items that all Preppers love is the bug-out bag or BOB.
A BOB is usually a large backpack that is chock-full of vital survival supplies, and for our purposes will include clothing, tools, some food, water, navigational equipment, shelter supplies, and more.
You might not be evacuating to a remote wilderness retreat, instead of just going to Uncle Jim’s house in the next state, but it can still prove useful under the circumstances.
Another option for the modern evacuee is to pack as you would for any extended trip, with clothing, hygiene items, and basic provisions to keep you supplied while underway.
Shelf-stable water and snacks will help keep hunger at bay and tempers in check.
Alternately, some folks like to keep a “leaving in 5” supply ready to go in case of evacuation.
This refers to usually large, flat stacking tubs kept full of supplies kept near the vehicle or in the garage that can be loaded aboard in a blink with everything a family living as evacuees might need for the duration.
What matters most is that you anticipate the fact that you might need to evacuate for any number of reasons and you have emergency supplies packed and close at hand for the purpose.
You definitely do not want to be under stress and under the gun trying to pack for the occasion, particularly if you have a spouse and children to attend to, also.
Though evacuation is always stressful, it can be far less stressful if all you need to do is grab the family, everyone grab their assigned bags or cargo, load them up and then get in the car.
The Importance of Current Info
Like all high-stakes responses in a crisis, timely information or intelligence regarding all circumstances- the event, its scope, intensity, likely path, your destination, the situation at your destination, and the conditions of the route or routes that you will take to get there- might prove to be the determining factor in obtaining a good or bad outcome when evacuating.
Generally speaking, you’ll have a much easier time obtaining quality, timely information if you are able to evacuate ahead of time.
As danger increases and damage is done the information pipeline will begin to break down.
You won’t be able to access it as readily via any method, and the people sending the information might be degraded or out of action.
Panic and uncertainty will further degrade information and you’ll be more prone to misinterpreting it owing to increasing stress.
Every bit of information regarding the event is useful assuming you can obtain it and implement it as part of your plan in time.
You should always make it a point to tune in on the radio, TV, or internet to any and all agencies or individuals broadcasting information that is relevant to your circumstances.
Particularly in the case of the most destructive disasters that are likely to offline cell networks and even the internet entirely, a simple emergency weather radio can provide a backup method of receiving information that is easy to use and reliable- priceless capability in a pinch.
Practicing Your Emergency Evacuation Plan
Practicing an emergency evacuation plan is a fairly simple affair, although it can be difficult to add high-fidelity to it as a training evolution.
This is mostly a matter of doing a dry run in a couple of different metrics.
First and foremost, keep careful tabs on how long it takes everyone you’re responsible for to rally to the designated location.
This is your baseline assembly time and you should anticipate that it is likely to be significantly longer under the chaos of an actual pre-evacuation state.
Next, time yourself on how long it takes to gather your needed supplies, whether or not they are pre-packed.
Reminder: they absolutely should be pre-packed, clearly labeled, and placed in a way that they are easy to access.
Get everyone ready to load in the car, do one final sweep for needed supplies, check in on up-to-date sources of information and then depart along your chosen route.
Pay close attention to usual traffic patterns and areas where bottlenecking is likely.
While driving your primary, secondary, and tertiary routes start making notes of where you might need to detour and how easily you’ll be able to detour should that time come. See how long it takes you to drive to your destination.
Any problems, delays, or other obstacles you encounter in practice are going to be amplified by an order of magnitude during a live event.
Unless you are the only one evacuating as a result of a personal emergency or a much smaller-scale disaster then you should anticipate slowdowns and detours while on the way.
Don’t Risk It: Evacuate and Live when Facing Major Disaster!
Most folks like the idea of being so prepared that they can buckle down and ride out a disaster, but for many of the worst natural disasters and personal emergencies evacuation is the only way to ensure that you and your loved ones will not meet a bad end.
Knowing how to evacuate, when to evacuate, and what circumstances warrant evacuation are critical components of an overall lifestyle of personal readiness.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.