Don’t Get Left Behind: How to Evacuate When Disaster Strikes

Unlike science fiction movies would suggest, the best way to evacuate in case of emergency is not to scatter like roaches as a giant lizard storms the city, get trapped in a tunnel with an alien generated fireball or barricade yourself in a mall as your friends and neighbors transform into zombies. Real evacuations occur more frequently than most people realize. People can be evacuated from their homes due to natural disasters and traffic or industrial accidents, which release hazardous substances into the environment. Authorities will deem evacuations mandatory when conditions are severely hazardous. In other instances, evacuations will be advised if conditions are potentially hazardous.

The time you have to prepare for an evacuation varies greatly depending on the disaster. You may have several days to plan for an evacuation from a hurricane, while an industrial accident could leave you with very little time to plan. However, it is essential to plan ahead in order to be ready for evacuation for any type of disaster.

Be prepared for an evacuation:

  • Create a family emergency plan. Make sure that everyone in your family knows phone numbers, emergency meeting places and how you would plan to evacuate. For tips on creating a plan, read Creating a Family Emergency Plan on Military OneSource.
  • Create an emergency communication plan. This plan should contain who you will contact, as well as how and when you will contact them. To learn how to create an emergency communication plan, visit Creating an Emergency Communication Plan on Military OneSource.
  • Prepare a disaster kit. You should have a disaster kit on hand that contains enough water, food and other supplies to last you for at least 72 hours. For a full list of supplies that you may need, read Preparing Your Disaster Kit on Military OneSource.
  • Keep your gas tank at least half full. At all times you should have at least a half tank of gas. If there is even a remote possibility of an evacuation, you should keep your gas tank full, as gas stations may not be operational during an emergency.
  • If you do not have a car, have a plan for your evacuation method. Make arrangements with a friend or family member that can drive you in case of an emergency. Check with your local government, as they may also be able to provide transportation.

During an evacuation:

  • Leave early. Don't wait to see if conditions improve; you could be trapped by severe weather.
  • Bring your disaster supply kit. Make sure you pack your supply kit, provided it has not been contaminated during the disaster.
  • Be alert for road hazards. Be aware that roads could be washed out or power lines could be down. Do not drive in flooded areas. Remember, "Don't drown, go around!" Make sure that you follow the recommended evacuation routes, as shortcuts may be blocked by hazards.

If there is sufficient time during the evacuation:

  • Secure your home. Lock your doors and windows before you evacuate. Unplug televisions, computers and small appliances. If there is no risk of flooding, you may leave your refrigerator and freezer plugged in. If you are instructed to do so, turn off your water, gas and electricity before you leave.
  • Wear protective clothing. Clothing that can provide protection from the elements includes long sleeves, long pants and sturdy footwear, such as work or hiking boots.
  • Leave a note. Explain where you are going and when you left. 
  • Check with your neighbors. If you have room for them in your vehicle, see if they need a ride. 
  • Call or email your contacts from your emergency communication plan.

Returning from an evacuation:

  • Use caution when you return home. There could be many hazards in your home and community such as downed power lines, broken gas lines, floodwater and unstable structures. For more tips, read Steps to Take After a Flood, Fire or Other Natural Disaster on Military OneSource.
  • Support your community. After you have assessed your family's situation and found that you are prepared to help others, consider helping your community by donating time, money or supplies to the recovery relief. For specific information, see Supporting Your Community After a Disaster on Military OneSource.

For more information on emergency preparedness, evacuation tips and disaster recovery, visit Disaster Resources on Military OneSource, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency's website.


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