Before you begin
The best evacuation plans are simple, and agreed upon by the whole family, not just dictated from one person to the rest. Especially if you live with young adults or children, people are much more likely to remember an escape plan if they are part of the discussion when the plan is drawn up. Play to individuals’ strengths and capabilities to get them involved in a fun, rewarding, useful way. Assigning each household member a task as part of the evacuation plan will help to empower everyone and ensure that every individual is capable of leading the others to safety if they have to.
What the plan includes
An evacuation plan should include specific meeting points that depend on the type of emergency, as well as actions that need to be taken and who will be in charge of each of them. Some of these actions may be preemptive: making sure the escape routes stay clear, emergency info is up to date, and the bug-out/bug-in-bag is always packed and ready.
- Make your evacuation plan well in advance of ever needing to use it.
- Do your research on the most common types of emergencies in your area, and the most common related but indirect causes of injury and death (e.g. carbon monoxide poisoning when people are sheltering from blizzards).
- Keep a copy of the evacuation plan somewhere easy to reach and hard to forget, by the phone, the front door, or in the icebox – pick somewhere that every can find it.
- Let everyone know where you keep the household bug-out-bag. In times of seasonally or especially high danger (a forecast cyclone, flood or wildfire conditions) you can recommend that each resident keeps a spare bag with all their important documents (E.g. passports), protective clothing, and small, high-value items, ready to be grabbed at a moments notice, saving precious time if you need to evacuate. Time is of the essence- in the context of wildfires, for example, many people die not because they chose to stay and fight but because they tried to leave too late.
- Remember to stick to your evacuation plan as far as practical. Assume that everyone else is following it to until you have evidence otherwise.
- Rehearse your evacuation plan once a year, and quiz kids to make sure they remember the most important information: where to meet in each of the most common types of emergency.
- Co-operate with local emergency services, volunteer rescue squads and community groups to help keep your family safe and to do what you can to help them.
- Check in on social media to let people know that you’re ok (and where you are if safe to do so- check your privacy settings!). Facebook now has an algorithm in place that can perceive large-scale disasters in real time. This program is triggered when enough people are talking about an emergency, often before the emergency is officially announced. Facebook provides a way for users to ‘Check-in’ as safe after one or more friends have publicly asked if they’re ok in response to news of an emergency.
- Assume you can make your evacuation plan next week or next summer.
- Ever travel back into the home (or different disaster site) in order to pack an overnight bag or even a bug-out-bag. The situation could worsen quicker than you expect, entrapping you and putting you at a great risk that far outweighs the usefulness of having your survival gear with you.
- Hesitate to ring family or friends and double-check that they’re safe, and that they are where they said they’d be according to the plan.
- Walk or travel distances to try to check on friends or family: if everyone did this, they’d be much less likely to find each other than if they stayed put and waited as long as safe and practical while trying to reach others remotely.
- Trust without question that national (non-local) disaster relief agencies and operations know what’s best for your area or community. Assume that they have your best interests at heart, but know that they make mistakes, and local community elders may have better knowledge of natural disasters and city-specific dangers.
Rules to follow for a smooth and safe evacuation:
If you get advance warning:
- If you receive advance warning that your neighborhood could be called to evacuate, go out and fill up the gas tank as soon as possible, and a spare jerry can too. As the evacuation deadline approaches, you could end up competing with other locals desperately trying to fill their tanks at the eleventh hour. Before evacuations are called, rationing can happen, gas stations can run dry temporarily, be required to stop work because of environmental threats, or not be able to power pumps due to power outages.
- If every car plans to get more passengers on seats, every car will experience less congestion and evacuations should be safer and faster. If you’ve got spare room, offer to pick up friends or neighbors on your way out of town.
- If you can’t take your car or don’t have one, plan how to leave in case of an emergency. Talk to family, neighbors, friends, authorities or volunteer rescue squads. Evacuating on your bicycle may be possible if the terrain permits – you might even outpace all the cars jamming up the roads.
- Look into a couple of alternative routes to leave town by, but make sure you listen to broadcast warnings. Do not try any routes that could be unsafe or blocked- this is a prominent cause of drowning during floods.
- Double check that your emergency kit (bug-out-bag) is packed, all in date, and ready to go.
1-4 hours before you plan to leave:
- Contact a couple of interstate relatives or friends to let them know that you’re leaving, as well as where you’re planning to go.
- Leave a quick note on the front door, fridge or kitchen counter saying where you’re going and when you left. Posting to social media is a good way to contact many people very quickly, and avoids the issue of leaving a note advertising that your house is empty and undefended.
- Pull on some protective clothes if you’ve got some: in a pinch any long pair of pants and long shirt will do, along with a sturdy pair of boots.
- Take steps to secure your house against the coming disaster. The right steps depend a little on what type of disaster you’re expecting, but in general:
- Close the storm shutters (if you have them)
- Unplug electrical appliances, but not your fridge or freezer
- If flooding is predicted, unplug the fridge and freezer too
- If advised, physically shut down your household gas, water and electricity
- Secure your house against humans, zombies, mutant wolves etc. by locking windows and doors
- You can grab your pets if you have time to do so safely, but keep in mind that public relief shelters (to which you might be evacuating) can generally only accept guide dogs and service animals.
When it’s time to go RIGHT NOW:
- Grab your trusty bug-out-bag.
- As you evacuate, stay vigilant for any dangerous or washed-out road sections, fires, flooding or debris. Especially on roads you know well, hazards like this can take you by surprise, with deadly consequences.
- Keep your car radio on (or take a battery-powered radio) and listen for instructions – the emergency frequency should be advertised, and sometimes appears on road signs too.
Make your own evacuation plan by printing out this article or writing your own personalized plan from scratch
Make your evacuation plan:
- Who does the plan include? Household members’ and/or family members’ names:
- Where are the exits in your home/building? Are there emergency exits?
- Does everyone know how to use the emergency exits?
- Where will you meet to prepare for an evacuation out of the area/out of town? E.g. at home?
- How long will you wait for everyone to make the meeting point before leaving? At some point it might be safer (and more practical) to assume that the last person who was across town anyway has already found their own way out.
- Where will you meet if there’s a sudden emergency inside the home, such as a house fire? (The mailbox across the street is often a good idea).
- What other emergencies are likely in your home and your region? Write them down here along with where you’ll meet:
- In an emergency, how can everyone find out if everyone else is safe?
- Is there mobile phone reception at each of the evacuation points? (it’s very likely there won’t be any in a storm shelter or tornado room)
- Where does the bug-out-bag / bug-in-bag live?
- Where will this evacuation plan live?
- Have you attached ICE information? (see below)
- What maintenance tasks need to be done? E.g. keeping exits clear, making sure escape windows and ladders work, checking the bug-out-bag inventory.
- Who is in charge of each task?
- How often does it need doing?
_____________________ _____________________ _____________________ _____________________ _____________________ _____________________ _____________________ _____________________ _____________________ _____________________ _____________________ _____________________ _____________________ _____________________ _____________________ _____________________ _____________________ _____________________
Complete this ICE checklist and keep the contact details all together, somewhere quick to find (preferably attached to your household evacuation plan). Make sure that everyone knows exactly where to find this info in case of an emergency.
Contact details In Case of Emergency (ICE checklist)
- Radio frequency of the local NOAA weather warning /emergency station
- Names, websites, phone numbers and addresses for local emergency/rescue services
- An address for your local emergency shelter(s), if there is one.
- A hospital address, and a paper map with directions for getting there.
- The address of your nearest library, with a map and directions.
- Personal emergency contact details:
- Mobile phone numbers for all the adults in the family,
- Workplace names and addresses,
- A next of kin who lives in a different town (name and number)