When to Evacuate During a Disaster

When to Evacuate During a Disaster
Photo credit: Stuart Axe

Leaving your home during a disaster may be one of the hardest decisions you make during the crisis. However, not leaving could mean the difference between surviving and not. You have to know when to leave, and what to do once the decision has been made. In many cases, the local authorities may issue a mandatory evacuation order based on conditions that you may not be aware of, such as rising flood waters, tidal surges, and high winds. You, of course, do not have to leave even when an order is issued, but not leaving means that emergency personnel cannot reach you – and you will likely be trapped in your home or community for days, or even weeks.


People seem to convince themselves that they can weather the storm and then find out they cannot, and then attempt to evacuate and find out it’s too late. Always consider leaving as a real possibility, and not just a vague notion if things get too rough. You have to plan for it, along with planning to stay in your home.

Where you will go must be decided before you have to leave. You must know where all emergency shelters are located in your area, and how to get there in the dark as well as in the daytime. Know the routes designated for evacuation out of your area, and map out alternatives in case one, or even all, are not passable. You also have to prepare for the possibility that emergency shelters may not be in operation because they were damaged by the storm.

You cannot assume the shelters will have emergency supplies, so it is important that you bring your own. The best way is to have backpacks (bug out bags) for every family member. The packs will be in addition to any supplies for the home. It is important that each backpack have the emergency essentials for the person carrying it to survive. Family members can be separated, and if one person is responsible for carrying water and other food, and they become separated – everyone suffers.

Supplies For Each Pack Include:

  • Food for 72 hours, such as protein bars, trail mix, MREs, beef jerky…
  • Water for three days – at least 2 quarts/liters daily – just for drinking (1.5 gallons for 72 hours)
  • Rain gear such as a poncho
  • Thermal blanket
  • First aid supplies, with any prescription medications
  • Multi-tool along with a fixed bladed knife
  • 50 ft of nylon rope
  • One waterproof lightweight tarp for emergency shelter (or a 1 person tent depending on the size/contents of your pack)
  • Matches, lighters, and alternative fire starting tools
  • Communication devices
  • Extra socks (it is assumed a person would be wearing clothing appropriate for the season, so avoid over packing)
  • Collapsible walking stick (can be used as protection)
  • Compass with maps of the area, state, and county
  • Personal hygience items
  • Hat, gloves (work or cold weather), bandana, sunglasses, lip balm, hand sanitizer
  • Insect repellent
  • Cash, change, and personal ID (make sure this is on their person at all times)
  • A sleeping bag can be optional if space allows

The packs should stay packed, and be placed in your vehicle when the storm nears. Make sure your vehicle is backed into the driveway, and is fueled up. That way, once the decision is made, all you have to do is get everyone in, and go. You have to remember that if the shelters are closed you will have to travel beyond the storm’s reach, and possibly use your vehicle as shelter if rooms at motels/hotels are unavailable.

When to Leave

You have to be informed, and leave before the highways are clogged, or become damaged. Once an order is given leave immediately, or leave before the order is given based on conditions in your area.

You can go to a relative’s or friend’s home that is out of the storm’s path, or find an area to set up a temporary camp. National or state parks are an option during an emergency, if of course they are not affected by the disaster. There may be utilities available – such as water and electricity – at certain parks. Know the locations of parks in your state or area that can be used. Check ahead of time about using the parks during an emergency, and inquire about “check in” procedures after hours. Some parks may have restricted access, so know before you attempt to use one.

Carry all paperwork pertaining to your home such as insurance and lease agreements. You will need the paperwork to apply for disaster relief, file insurance claims, and you may even need it to prove you live in the community because of a curfew, or if access is restricted to help prevent looting.

Once out of the disaster area, you have to keep in mind that local retail stores and service stations may be short of supplies and fuel, due to the exodus of people fleeing the disaster. You have to be prepared to survive on your own for a few days.

You always have to consider that vehicles may break down, or that roads are impassable. You may have to travel on foot to escape some disasters.

The disaster may be such that your entire city, town, or community becomes a hostile area because of airborne contaminates from a nuclear, chemical, or biological attack, and bugging-out is the only way to save your life. If this is the case, your vehicle may be more of a hindrance when traveling, because of the clogged roadways, bridges, and tunnels. If on foot, you can maneuver around obstacles, and even cross water where you could not otherwise in a vehicle.

Getting ahead of everyone else can solve some of the congestion problem, but once again this means you have to be informed, and can make a decision based on information you gather instead of relying on the authorities to tell you when to leave.

For more information:
Creating an emergency plan
Zombie bug out bag essentials