Organization for a potential emergency evacuation is a key component of your family evacuation plan. Regardless of where you live, there is always a reason that you may need to evacuate in a hurry. Being organized may mean the difference between having what you need and spending the next few days being miserable.
Know your risks
You should know, in advance, what the reasons you might need to evacuate would be. This will help you understand the likelihood of needing to evacuate. Hurricanes in the Southeast, wildfires and earthquakes in the west, tornadoes in the Midwest and Southeast are all events that can be expected with seasonal regularity. However, don’t forget flooding risks, major industrial accidents such as oil refinery explosions, nuclear power plant accidents or hazardous materials accidents on nearby highways or railways. Regardless of where you live, there is always a potential need to evacuate for one reason or another.
Know your routes
Depending on where you live, there may be established evacuation routes for predictable emergencies. Expect emergency personnel to direct you to use these evacuation routes. However, you should also expect that everyone else will also be using them, so they will be crowded. You should consider knowing at least two different ways out of your community to safer locations. Especially if you live in high risk areas like beaches and near other water areas, you should know which major bridges you might have to cross and have alternate plans for what to do if those bridges are impassable. A GPS is a great tool to have, but many don’t offer “alternate routes”. Have paper maps and learn how to use them.
Plan What to Take
Make up a checklist of what you want to take during an evacuation. Take only what you need to survive. Don’t forget 3-5 days worth of clothes, more than one pair of sensible shoes (sneakers or boots), weather-appropriate outerwear, water, food, medicines, cell phones and chargers as well as pillows, sleeping bags or blankets (in case you end up in a shelter). Don’t forget standard bathroom items like soaps, shampoos, toothbrush/toothpaste and deodorant. The key here is to assume that you’ll end up in a hotel or in a shelter somewhere and having your own stuff to get cleaned up with will make you feel better. Consider packing one bath towel for each member of the household. Make up an evacuation packing list as part of your evacuation plan. Have this list handy and already printed out, because you might not have power when it is time to evacuate.
If you live in a high risk area where evacuation is common, consider having an evacuation kit (“go-bag”) that has most of these items pre-packed. On the top of the go-bag should be a list of the additional items you will need to add at the last minute. Having these items pre-packed and pre-staged will make your evacuation easier and less hectic. This will put you out in front of others evacuating and may help you get ahead of the traffic jams.
Plan for separation and reunification!
This is especially important. You might not all be in the same place when the evacuation order is given. Anyone working outside the home might not be able to get back home in time to help and might not know where to meet. Have planned rendezvous points where you can get together. Once you are together, don’t assume that you’ll be able to stick together. If you have more than one car, keep your go bag for each person in the car where that person is riding. That way, if you get separated, you’ll still have what you need with you. Also have a plan for where you can call to check in. Don’t assume that cell phones will always work. Make sure that everyone knows to call a specific family member or friend who lives outside of the known hazard zone.
Tips for families with small children
If you have small children, your go kit will need to include items important for their care. Diapers, formula, baby food and other such things are critical for your baby’s well being during the evacuation. You’ll need to keep cold things cold and have a way to heat up bottles. Don’t forget your young child’s favorite toys. For toddlers and elementary school children, having toys and activities to keep them occupied during the evacuation will help you keep your sanity. A deck of cards or two goes a long way to keeping a young child’s mind occupied with a game of crazy eights, go fish or war, so have these in your “go bag”.
Tips for handling your pets
Your pets are just as much of family members as your children. Remember to pack cat litter and a pan, the dog’s leash, doggie dropping bags, pet food and your pet’s toys. If your pet has any medicine to take, don’t forget to bring that along as well. Make sure that your pet’s collar is on, and has your contact information. Pets often get confused and lost during evacuations, so ensuring that they are properly labeled gives your best chance of getting them back later.
With these few tips, your family evacuation plan will be the key to your success in an emergency evacuation. When the time comes, you’ll be prepared, out front and looking like a pro.
Guest Post by: Nick Giacobe
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