Many times, individuals are forced to evacuate more often than we think. Hundreds of times each year, transportation or industrial accidents release harmful substances, forcing thousands of individuals to leave their homes and go to a safer area. Fires and floods cause evacuations even more frequently. Almost every year, people living in cities and communities along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts are forced to evacuate due to an approaching hurricane.
To enable an effective evacuation, local evacuation planning has occurred over many years in several parts of the country. Specific evacuation plans vary by the area and type of disaster. The local emergency management office can provide you with information about evacuation plans in your local area.
How much time will you have to evacuate?
The amount of time you will have to evacuate your home or community depends upon the disaster. Sometimes, you may have days to prepare, such as in the case of hurricanes which can be detected early. However, in many more common disasters, such as a hazardous materials spill, you may only have moments to leave. This means that you must prepare yourself now , because once you need to evacuate, it may be too late to collect even the most basic necessities.
Who should evacuate?
Individuals who live in known storm surge areas should evacuate from their homes. The potential for loss of life and major property damage due to storm surge is much greater along the coastal and inland water areas. Individuals who reside in mobile homes, or other structures that are subject to severe damage or destruction from tropical or hurricane force winds must also consider evacuation. If you live in an area that is not subject to storm surge or flooding, and your structure is sturdy enough to withstand the winds, then you should consider sheltering in-place.
Evacuation periods can last for hours or several days. You may be responsible for your own food, clothing and other supplies for part or all of this time. Remember, it may take a few days for supplies to arrive or utilities to be restored to a disaster area. For this reason, it is imperative that you make preparations to take care of yourself for up to 72 hours without outside help.
Where should you go?
If you must leave your house and evacuate, consider making arrangements with friends or relatives who reside outside of the threat area. Hotels and motels may be available along the evacuation route, but they normally fill up very rapidly. If you plan to go to a shelter, you should ensure that the shelter will be open. Not all shelters in an area may open for a disaster, so listen to local radio and television stations for shelter information. Remember to take your individual disaster kit with you when you evacuate or go to a shelter. You cannot take pets, alcohol, drugs or weapons to a shelter.
Advance Evacuation Planning
Use the Preparation checklists available to assist you in planning for an emergency. Assemble the materials early, as you may only have minutes to react after being told to evacuate.
- Review possible evacuation procedures with your family. Each individual should understand what they are responsible for doing during an evacuation, and also where to meet if you become separated.
- Ask a friend or relative outside your area to be your "emergency contact" so that everyone in the family can call that person and report that they are safe.
- Find out where children will be sent if they are in school when and evacuation is announced.
- Plan now where you will go if you must evacuate.
- Consider the homes of friends or relatives who live outside the potential disaster area.
- Contact the local emergency management office to learn about community evacuation plans. Review public information to identify potential reception centers and shelters.
- Keep your car's gas tank at least 3/4 full at all times. During emergencies, filling stations may be closed or run out of gas. Never store extra fuel in your garage.
- If you do not have a car or other vehicle, make transportation arrangements with friends or neighbors.
- Know where and how to shut off electricity, gas and water at the main switches and valves. Make sure that you have the tools that you would need to do this (normally a pipe or adjustable wrench.) If you do not know how to turn your utilities off, check with your local utility company.
What should you do when you are told to evacuate?
- If there is time, secure your house.
- Unplug appliances.
- Turn off natural gas, propane or other fuel valves where they enter the house if advised to do so. If a flood hazards area, store propane tanks or secure them safely to the structure.
- Turn off the main water valve if told to do so.
- Take any actions needed to prevent the water pipes from freezing, if this is a threat.
- Securely close and lock all doors, windows and the garage.
- Place a sign in the front door or window to notify authorities that the house or apartment has been evacuated. If possible, leave a number where you may be reached.
- Follow the recommended evacuation routes. Do not take shortcuts! They may be blocked.
- Listen to the radio for emergency shelter or evacuation information.
- Carry your individual preparedness kit, first aid kit, and vehicle kit with you when you leave.