Planning An Evacuation

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There have been many natural disasters in recent history that have required people to leave their homes in order to preserve life and safety. Most recently, the East Coast was forced to deal with Super Storm Sandy.

In this case, about two days’ notice was all that residents had to evacuate the areas that would be affected by the storm. Those that chose to adhere to the evacuation order were certainly inconvenienced but survived to talk about it. In past times of disaster, those who ignored orders to evacuate from disaster areas have lost their lives or at best have been stranded for long periods of time.

So What Makes An Evacuation Successful?

It is safe to say that in most cases, an early evacuation is a successful evacuation. Those who wait until the last minute to leave will likely end up on the gridlocked Interstates and some may become one of the unfortunate evacuees who run out of fuel and have to abandon their vehicles in the middle of the highway system.

The key to a successful evacuation is not only leaving early but having a plan to evacuate. Here are some considerations for planning a successful evacuation:

Know Where To Go

Evacuating will remove people from immediate danger but it does not give evacuees a place to stay. In most cases there will be shelters that are set up by relief organizations, and there are always hotels and motels that are available. But shelters are not ideal, and other lodging options fill quickly and are also being expensive.With that being said, the best option is to coordinate with family members or close friends to stay with them at least until longer term arrangements can be made. Staying with friends and family also typically removes limits on whether you can take family pets with you. Shelters and other lodging facilities don’t always give that option.

How Will You Get There?

Method of Evacuation: Most individuals or families will elect to take the most reliable vehicle available to them, others will take more than one vehicle, and some do not have a vehicle to evacuate in and will be forced to rely on others or the government in order to leave the area. Key points to consider when selecting the vehicle that you will use to evacuate is the weather you will be driving in, terrain you will be driving on, capacity of the vehicle, and the availability of fuel and parts for the vehicle as you are evacuating. If you do not have a vehicle and do not want to be left hitchhiking, consider talking to close friends or family in your local area now who have cars about what might happen if there ever was an evacuation order. Find out if one of them will plan to pick you up on the way out.

Routes of Evacuation: Plan more than one evacuation route to your destination. Ideally, there will be a route that will lead out-of-town or away from home and work in each direction: north, east, south and west. This will allow for evacuation regardless of whether one direction is blocked or not. When planning routes, avoiding large cities and metropolitan areas can be a sound decision to avoid danger, areas of congestion and unnecessary delays. One of the best technologies that is available that can be utilized to assist in planning evacuation routes are the online map websites that allow users to get directions from one place to another. An added bonus to planning your routes this way is that once they are planned, they can be printed and placed in a binder with other pertinent information, kept in vehicle glove boxes, or even shared with other family or survival group members through online file sharing. Global positioning systems are great for navigating as you travel, but it can be valuable to have paper maps or an atlas that covers all of the states and major population centers that you may travel through as a backup.

Stops Along the Way: It is likely that if you find yourself in a position where you are evacuating your home that you are probably not going to a destination right down the street. Furthermore, if your idea of a good time is not staying in a high school gym with a bunch of strangers, the destination you will evacuate to is likely to be a close friend or family member, so it may become necessary to make a few stops along the way. These stops may include arranging overnight accommodations. Plan stops for fuel, food, lodging, etc. as needed along your planned routes. To ensure that your planned stops are likely to be open and operating, look at truck stops and places other than one light towns.

What to Take

Cash: In the event of an emergency or disaster situation there may be electrical outages or technology failures that will result in businesses not accepting credit and debit cards. If this becomes the case, cash will be king. Planning to have cash on hand when evacuating will provide for purchasing necessities. It is also possible that banks will be closed and ATMs could be inoperable or out of cash.

B.O.B.: For those not familiar with the acronym, B.O.B. stands for Bug-Out Bag, which can be pretty much any bag that contains the life support items and necessities to survive for a certain period of time (usually 72 hours). The idea behind a B.O.B. is to have a bag on standby either in the house or in the car that can be grabbed at a moment’s notice and taken along. This is a perfect item to take in an evacuation to ensure that you are not without the bare necessities for survival. While there are no laws governing the B.O.B., typically each individual will have his own bag. A backpack is the most effective bag to use for carrying a B.O.B. for any period of time.

A B.O.B. should include:

  • A light source (at least a flashlight with an extra set of batteries).
  • Water for drinking (and a method to purify more water is recommended).
  • Food (jerky, granola bars, tuna, or other long-life foods that do not require refrigeration and ideally would not require any preparation).
  • Shelter (poncho, tarp, plastic sheeting, or survival blanket).
  • Fire/Warmth (fire starters, hand warmers and/or waterproof matches)
  • Clothing (Whatever suits you, no pun intended. For example, if you keep your bag in your car and wear dress shoes daily you would want to keep some hiking boots or athletic shoes in your B.O.B.).
  • Self defense/security (pepper spray or whatever is legal in your local area).
  • ·First aid kit.
  • Personal hygiene items (toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, feminine products, etc.).
  • Tools (At a minimum a good knife, but a multi-tool can be valuable because of the additional features it offers. Other tools that some include in their bags include a hatchet, small pry bar, Woodsman’s Pal or machete.)
  • Communications (extra cell phone, CB radio, or family band radios to communicate between vehicles during an evacuation.)

Treated Fuel: If you have to leave, don’t get stuck on the side of the road in a vehicle that has run out of gas. A reasonable guideline is to carry enough stabilized fuel with you during an evacuation to travel an additional 100 miles.

Spare Vehicle Parts and Tools: Extra parts seem to always be needed at the worst of times. It is not going to be possible to carry an entire automotive shop everywhere you go, but a few key items can make a significant difference. Some important spare parts that should be kept in a vehicle include an extra set of belts and hoses, spare fuses, a can of fix-a-flat, various hose clamps, electrical tape, spare light bulbs and extra fluids. A basic mechanics tool set can be obtained inexpensively and will contain most of the tools needed to make side of the road repairs in an emergency. Must have items are jumper cables, lug wrench, tire jack, and either road flares or a warning triangle.

What Will Be Needed at Evacuation Location: Some of the important items that may be needed once you arrive at the location that you have evacuated to include:

  • Medical Records/Shot Records
  • Driver’s license
  • Social Security card
  • School records
  • Prescription medications (copies of prescriptions)
  • Glasses (copy of prescription)
  • Medical equipment
  • Comfort Items (especially important for children)
  • Insurance documents
  • Bank account information

Dealing With Extended Evacuation

The victims of Hurricane Katrina were displaced for extended periods of time and some never returned to New Orleans. Part of evacuating will require staring down the barrel of the cold hard truth and knowing that a new life may have to be established somewhere else, at least for a temporary, yet extended, period of time. This will mean obtaining long term housing, securing employment, finding schools for the kids, etc. Long term disruption is not a guarantee with every evacuation, but being prepared for this possibility can make a significant difference for a person that ends up in that situation.

For instance, an evacuee that has filed a resume in Google Docs so that it can be accessed from anywhere is better prepared to apply for a new job in a different part of the country than a person that is displaced and has to create a new resume from scratch.

In an ideal world there would never be a need to involuntarily leave home. The fact of the matter is that as long as natural disasters, catastrophic failures in technological systems, societal collapse, pandemics, economic disaster, terrorism or acts of war threaten society, so it may be necessary to evacuate your home and relocate to another location. If this happens, having a plan in place results in a proactive approach instead of a reactive evacuation where key items may be missed. Trying to gather all the necessities at the last minute may put you, your loved ones and/or friends in a difficult situation.

-Thomas Miller

Thomas Miller

lives with his wife and three sons in the Northeastern quadrant of the United States. He has completed countless hours of advanced training in both clinical and trauma medicine and is a Nationally Registered Emergency Medical Technician. Tom has also completed several courses in disaster and emergency planning/management as well as hazardous materials handler and transport certification. He graduated with honors from American Military University with an Associate of Arts in Real Estate Studies.Tom is a U.S. Army combat veteran who served with honor as a combat medic on his multiple overseas tours during the Global War on Terror. During his time in the Army, Tom became an expert in the use of several weapons (including long guns, sidearms and improvised weaponry) and obtained competence with many other weapon systems, including foreign firearms. The Army also afforded Tom the opportunity to become proficienct in the driving and operation of several different vehicles from Humvees to heavy trucks and tracked vehicles.If there happens to be any free time available, Tom can be found sharing his passion for fishing with his sons, working on a project in the wood shop, tending to the garden or trying to maintain some resemblance of physical fitness. Tom's other writings can be viewed on his blog, The Prepared Ninja, at www.thepreparedninja.com. If you are on Twitter, Tom can be followed on the handle @preparedninja.

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