A Family Preparedness Assignment: The 30 Minute Evacuation

As I write this, I’m sitting in our family room contemplating what, if anything, I would grab on my way out the door in an emergency evacuation.  As it turns out, other than this laptop, there’s really nothing else of vital importance, except our three dogs.  Scanning my kitchen, I came to the same conclusion.  I’d leave my three sets of crystal stemware behind (what was I thinking when I bought that stuff???) as well as my knife block and pots and pans. 

For the most part, items of real, immediate value are found in our bedrooms: changes of clothing, sturdy shoes, toiletries, and some financial records.  My Grab-n-Go Binder needs to be updated as do the clothes in our family 72 Hour Kit.  Could we evacuate in 30 minutes?  As it stands right now, no.  I need to repack our Bug Out Bags/72 Hour Kits and make sure our most important papers are all in one, handy place.

Could your family evacuate in 30 minutes?  Run through this assignment together one night this week, and see how close you are to that 30 minute deadline.  Here are a few steps to get your evacuation plan streamlined and speedy.

  1. Survey each room.  What, if anything, should be included in an emergency evacuation.  Family photos?  A wedding album?  The kids’ schoolbooks?  If you determine ahead of time that nothing in a certain room is worth packing, you won’t waste valuable time searching through drawers or shelves and trying to make on-the-spot decisions under duress. 

    image by TheGiantVermin

  2. Make a master list of what must not be left behind and then begin gathering those items into one or two locations.  Make it a point to always return those items to their assigned locations.
  3. Prepare or update a Bug Out Bag for each member of the family.  It should include one or two changes of clothes, including a jacket appropriate to the current season, closed toed shoes and socks, a small, personalized toiletry bag, and two or three items for entertainment. 
  4. Mom’s and Dad’s bags might also include a firearm with a supply of ammo and enough cash to pay for a hotel, gas, and unexpected expenses.
  5. Prepare or update a family bag with enough non-perishable food to last three days, a first aid kit including important medications, a way to heat water and food, a portable water filter, maps, and any other items to see you through at least three days.
  6. Do you have cases of water bottles ready to grab?  Where is the water you will pack with you?
  7. Don’t forget your pets.  Determine now if they will go or stay, and then prepare accordingly.  Our turtle stays, sorry, Onyx!, but the cat and dogs go.
  8. How will you prepare your house?  Who will be in charge of making sure that every door and window is locked?  Who will turn off the gas, water, and/or electricity if need be?
  9. Check out your bug out vehicle.  Do you have at least a can or two of extra fuel and motor oil?  Are you prepared to change a tire if necessary?  Do you have an emergency kit including road flares, a jumper cable, and a flat tire repair kit?  Is that vehicle 100% ready to get on the road and go as far as you need it to go? 
  10. Where will you go?  Once you’re in your vehicle, along with all your carefully planned and packed supplies, now what? Read Emergency Exits for more tips.

Once you have your plans and preparations in order, it’s time.  Yell out, “Evacuate!  Evacuate!”, set a timer, and see how close you get to that thirty minute goal.  Evaluate the results.

  1. What was your actual time or did you have to call it quits after two hours?
  2. Who remembered their assigned tasks?  Who forgot?
  3. If your thirty minute goal wasn’t met, what can be done to speed up the process?
  4. Was there anything of importance you forgot to include?

An evacuation is an extremely tense and fearful experience.  Just ask anyone who has had to run for their lives from an oncoming flood or firestorm.  Preparedness helps take some of the panic out of the process, and when the whole family is informed and is involved with the planning, you can count on getting out quickly and efficiently.

For more tips, read Organize your Emergency Evacuation.

There may be links in the post above that are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission, which does not affect the price you pay for the product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

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  1. rightwingmom says

    I've created a BOB checklist. The items are prioritized according to importance and are nearly identical to you article. While my husband hooks up our pre-packed pop up camper, the boys and I load the camper and van according to my checklist.

    One thing at the top of my list is a travel jewelry bag and our silverware. If traditional currency is de-valued, a pair of my sterling silver, gold earrings or sterling silver spoon may barter us critical necessities.

  2. No BoB says

    Can you please list emergencies that require you to leave in less than 30 minutes?? I don't mind being prepared but a BoB is one of the most useless ideas ever dreamed up.

    In a natural emergency like an earthquake you won't have 30 minutes, if it is flooding or similar you will have days to leave. Just keep a couple of empty duffel bags in the house.

    Political turmoil, takes time to built up.

    Sorry, but I don't see the point of having a bag prepared, mental checl list OK

    • says

      I disagree strongly. It's the nature of any evacuation to be a time of extremely high and intense stress. What could be more stressful than having to leave your home, or workplace, and suddenly be a refugee, more or less? That is not the time to be making instant decisions about which valuables and paperwork to take and which to leave behind, what will be needed for comfort, health, and security. I can't imagine a worse scenario than having to suddenly leave my home and making those decisions on the spot. If you feel you can do that, good for you, but I don't know of any emergency planners or organizations who would agree with you. Thinking through possible scenarios and taking a few minutes to prepare, "just in case," will alleviate much of the anxiety associated with evacuations.

      The 30 minute time limit isn't as important as having plans and supplies in place beforehand. Not all earthquake victims have to leave their homes immediately, by the way. Often, it's a day or two later when officials inform them that their home or building is unsafe. Floods and wildfires are very unpredictable, and circumstances can change within hours. My recommendation is to shoot for 30 minutes. That way, if you have more time, you'll be ready and, perhaps, can give more thought to preparing your home and property. If you have less, you're still way ahead of those racing out the door with only the clothes on their backs.

    • LizLong says

      Seriously? When I lived in LA, you were *HIGHLY* encouraged to have earthquake prep kits ready to go. I lived there long enough to have blanked on the specific recommendations, but I know darn well I should have things for the house, the car, and the office, at a minimum. They should include food, shelter, water, clothing. Hmmm. Sound like the same concept as a BOB? Sure does to me, even if the name is different. If you HAVE a BOB and are in a quake, flood, etc, then you have ONE thing you can grab when you run out instead of trying to race around gathering stuff.

      I did have a mental checklist – but it was primarily prestaged things I could grab quickly. Searching through the house for all our vital documents (insurance info, licenses, birth certificates, pink slips for cars, etc) was most definitely NOT on the list because it wouldn't have been doable. Grabbing a small firesafe with it all in there was. People can't remember more than about half a dozen things. That's why most people can remember 6, not all 7, of the 7 Dwarves. That's the point of a BOB – to reduce what you need to remember to a manageable amount. (BTW, the folks in Nashville will be THRILLED to know that you will definitely have days to leave for a flood.)

      • says

        Kat, I was thinking about this last night and how difficult it is for me to grab everything I need, including the kids, to just get out the door to a piano lesson on time! Yesterday, I thought I had left my favorite sunglasses at a Starbucks. I was carrying my laptop, a pad of paper, a little pouch with some cash in it, my keys, and my son! Crazy! Now, add a fire or a flood or a chemical spill, and there's no way to go but ultra-high on the panic scale!

    • tannersmommy says

      Tornado, flood, tsunami, hurricane

      Storms can come up suddenly, pop up, change directions and such. I live in a high area on top of a mountain and we had a huge flood a few months ago. It was the worst flooding in history and something we would not have expected. An earthquake in California might be expected but in Alabama it is not something you think about. However we had an earthquake not to long ago. What about the wildfires in the west?? If wind changes it can hear to somewhere suddenly. A hurricane can be headed for Florida and change at the last minute and hit Alabama, Mississippi or Lousianna. An EMP could hit suddenly and if you were in an area to where you would need to leave especially in the big cities then time is important to beat the crowds. Being some of the first out could mean whether or not you make it out. Else you could run out of gas waiting in lines or get caught up with the more people that are in a panic.

  3. Daemon says

    Excellent article. I wouldn't draw the line at 30 minutes though. My fiancée and I recently had a fire alarm go off in our building. We were out the door in 5 minutes. Downstairs the rest of the residents came down in robes and pajamas. What if the building was burning? How would they continue their life? Go to work? Etc

    • says

      Daemon, about three or four months ago, I posted an article by a guest writer on how she has prepared for earthquakes. She has some excellent ideas that would come in handy for lots of emergencies. One is always keeping a pair of shoes by the side of your bed, and a change of clothing stuffed in a pillow case right under the bed so you can get dressed in a flash. Do a search for 'earthquake' on my blog, and you'll find it. Great info.

  4. Tune my Life says

    Maybe part of your preparation while putting together a bug out bag is to evaluate if you really need to live in an area that you would need to evacuate.

    Just a thought. People don't realize the dire consequences of leaving your primary residence behind. You instantly become a refugee.

    • says

      Whenever people talk about bugging out as their number one plan, I hesitate a little because of the refugee issue. Until you reach your destination, you're not safe. Traveling in a group can help, but I don't think I would rest easy until I got to my fortified compound, whose reality is quite a few years out.

    • LizLong says

      To my mind, pretty much EVERYONE should be prepared for that, no matter where they live. The blizzards, floods, and other weird weather this year in places they don't normally happen is proof enough of that for me. Really, your house could (God forbid) catch on fire and you'd have no time to grab things. If you were prepared, you could grab one bag / box / bundle with all your key documents and save yourself many nightmares later. If you were REALLY prepared, you would already have duplicates of those in other prestaged areas, like your parents home.

      There really is no way to know what might be targeted by someone and become a place that needs to evacuate. Targeting systems go awry. People get lost and panic. Mother Nature throws us a curve, followed by a hail the size of baseballs. Yes, some places are less likely, but moving to the back of nowhere isn't a realistic option for most of us (for financial, social, familial, or emotional reasons – a lot of people just can not take that kind of isolation), and even the far side of the back of nowhere can have natural disasters that require evacuating.

  5. No BoB says

    Still don't agree. Let's have a look at emergencies:

    1. Earthquake: bad, you only have seconds and leaving the building isn't exactly the safest option. Thereafter would you leave your property to be looted, don't think so. Check the news, people don't leave after an earthquake, they go home and rebuild.Having some clothes and a tent outside (in the car or a place that won't collapse) isn't a bad idea.

    2. Tornadoes: I think you should have a shelter in Tornado country, keep your stuff there.

    3. Floods: they take days to build up. The people that got caught in New Orleans had no means of transportation, the rest of the city was waiting the storm out in the comfort of their hotel rooms.

    4. Political unrest: also takes time to build up and again why would you leave. Wouldn't you rather stay to protect what is yours.

    • LizLong says

      1. Ever heard of after shocks?
      2. What stuff? You don't believe in BOBs. I know folks who live in tornado areas who would have to shelter in a tiny space that couldn't hold much for continual storage. Having a BOB they can grab on the way in would be a HUGE help for them.
      3. Bullshit. They had means of transportation, at least many of them did. Some had family BEGGING them to leave and ready to transport them. They were primarily old folks who just thought they had seen worse in Camille, so they didn't leave. They made a CHOICE. And no, I don't mean to minimize the destruction and death, but as with many situations, many of the victims made a tragic CHOICE. And, again, it's news to Nashville that floods always take days to build. Flash floods happen.
      4. It takes time to build, but the decisive event is often unexpected.Y2K could've been a big problem, but it was recognized in advance and the problems were averted. People try to avoid upending their lives for a possible potential problem. Most of the time, it goes away. Every now and then, it doesn't. People can pre-move a lot of what they care to a retreat of some sort and then simply have their family and a small amount of other stuff to move with them later. They are then LEAVING to go to what is theirs and protect it. Finally, no STUFF is worth what my family is. If they aim to to nuke our closest big city but miss and hit near us, the hell with the stuff.

      And, no, I don't think I'll change your mind. You have clearly made it up and that's that. I'm writing this for anyone else there who might be reading this thread.

      • No BoB says


        Still waiting for the list of emergencies that will give you less than 30 minutes to leave but more than a couple of seconds.

        Nothing wrong with a BoB but in cases when you neeed it you can't take it and in all other cases you will have enough time to get your stuff. The BoB is meant that somethin so devasting has happened that you need to make a choice and leave your home to become a refugee. What kind of cataclistic events could cause this decision:

        1. Natural catastrophes like hurricanes or floods have a warning time. And in most cases you might consider staying to protect what is yours. Short term things like tornados or earthquakes either give you no time to grab your BoB or if a twister is coming towards you you will have other more pressing things to do like getting your behind into a shelter. Regarding flash floods, don't park your car in a dry river bed and building a house there is you own dam fault: I agree if you do that then you need a BoB. Then on the other hand you probably won't be sensible enough to have one.

        • says

          NB, Liz doesn't have to prove anything. You've taken a contrarian view of a standard emergency procedure, and as I said to you in your last post, good luck. I hope that none of us ever have to rush out of our homes or offices in a dire emergency. You've stated your case more than once now, but the issue really is a trivial one. You believe it's silly to have pre-packed emergency supplies and the rest of us think it's a smart idea. Nothing else needs to be said. Let's move on to something more interesting.

        • tannersmommy says

          Just for the record.. we had no flood warning at all when we flooded. We did not even have a thunderstorm watch or warning. Our flood was caused by the city construction a new road and that week they had shifted dirt around and it changed the flow of water and nobody knew till it was to late. I had 5 1/2 feet of water in my commercial buildings and 3 feet in our house. 75% of our town was flooded and we are on top of a mountain. A flood was not something anyone would ever expect. We got out in less than 20 minutes and that was almost to late. We do have BOB . I had packed ours more to get home that to get out of our home. I do not live on the coast or in California or near a big forest. I did not see why I would ever need to get out. But now I do. My BOB was in our cars so that if something happened (I was thinking more like an EMP) then we could get home from work walking or something. The hurricane that hit Mississippi really hard in the late 90's.. was headed toward the Florida coast.

  6. No BoB says

    2. Political unrest, common I live in a country with a very fragile political structure in Africa. Not long ago a significant number of people got killed because some politicians wanted more power, those who stayed in risky areas had more than 30 minutes and they stayed because they wanted to protect what little they had. Besides the build-up took days. Let's use a US example, the riots after the Rodney King veredict, hardly unexpected. The Korean shop owners that stayed did so to protect their stores.

    3. Pandemics, nukes and other destruction devices. You would have enough time to leave or none. And again where would you go, unless you own a share in a nuke shelter.

    4. Terrorism: either you are dead or you should be fighting back, no reason to run again

    I'm sure there are things that could render our civilisation handicapped like a massive solar flare or a new version of the Y2K bug but frankly the odds of survival are higher within society than on your own living in some desert. Besides if you make a BoB skip those rifles, because when the salvation troops come they will probably shoot you because they consider a person with a rifle a looter.

  7. LizLong says

    Something else I'm working on in case we need to get out in a hurry is backing up my PC so I can just grab a couple flash drives and a portable hard disk and have most of what I care about. Top of the list is, of course, family photos.

    I just backed up three years worth of photos (bad mommy) onto cd and I'm working on sorting through and copying just the ones that are actually good (you know, in focus, people whose names I still remember, that sort of thing) onto Best Pics YEAR files. I'll copy those Best Pics files onto a portable drive, update it every year (hey, a mom can dream, can't she?), and then I only have those to grab too. I don't want to either lose my pc or bring it with me. And I just haven't been able to bring myself to switch to a laptop for real. Where would we all be without our tech?

    If I get REALLY crazy-ambitious, I may even scan and store photos from when dh and I were younger. (To dream the impossible dream….) 😉

    • says

      Liz, my own plan for that (and it's not nearly as smart as yours) is just to rip out all the cords from the back of the CPU and race out the door with it. LOL You're way ahead in the planning department here! One other thought I had was to use an old laptop for storage and grabbing it at the last minute. That way I'd have everything I need already on the computer AND have an actual computer to use.

      • LizLong says

        But if I took the desktop, I'd have to figure out how to pack it. And I already have the photos backed up onto cds in case the desktop dies and I never get them onto the portable hard drive. I do have a laptop I plan to grab, but the portable hard drive gives me more flexibility if my laptop dies like the old one did. I also have backup cds of all the photos at my parents house. And I bought a portable hard drive for this last summer. It's sitting here, right in front of me, just like it has for the last year. But I'm getting a lot closer to loading it up with pics!!!!

        Being fairly lazy about carrying heavy crap unnecessarily, when I was in college I ripped all the pages out of my foreign language book, hole punched them, put them in a binder (tops 30 min work, undoubtedly while talking to a friend), and then I only ever carried the glossary and current chapter with me to class. Those fit in a regular folder. That's my approach in general. A little work up front, then less crap to carry for a long time to come. The portable hard drive fits in the same category.

        I just HATE carrying stuff. A different kind of lazy. :-)

  8. LizLong says

    I just bought us each a zippered pillowcase to put clothing in if we need to run. Realistically, I don't have enough clothing for the kids to have much set aside to grab if we need to run. I put each persons initials on the corners of the cases in fabric paint (different colors for each of us) and used a sharpie to write a list of what we should grab and stuff it with. I put a check box next to each item, and a number of how much to grab for the kids. I think we can use them for vacation packing, too. If we use washable (kids) markers to make check marks, they should be reusable indefinitely.

  9. says

    No BoB makes no sense at all & smacks of the sheeple that i will pass by after peak oil shtf.

    "I don't mind being prepared but a BoB is one of the most useless ideas ever dreamed up. Sorry, but I don't see the point of having a bag prepared, mental checl list OK"

    In a fire are you goiung to have even a minute to gather all the crap that should've been in One place anyways? That is precisely what a BoB is for!

    Good site and articles. I need a garden … balcony is ok for now.

    Good luck with your empty duffel bags as youre burning alive trying to gather your crap. You don't need to outrun the bear, just be faster than the slowest camper. And that slow camper is "No BoB".

    Convenience & organization is why a BoB can save lives… 99.9% of us know this. Others, not so much.

  10. Whitfield says

    Here’s an idea that I’ve been mulling over in my head about a family disaster kit: store water, food, a first aid kit, and similar items in a large 50-70 quart cooler in the garage. That way, the adults and teens in the family wouldn’t have to run all throughout the kitchen and pantry, racking their minds over what to bring and what can be left. Have the decision made up in times of peace, instead of having to make those decisions in an adrenaline-filled frenzy. The cooler offers a perfect vehicle to carry preparations to your BOV. Plus, you could use it for water storage!

    This community-style kit would allow the family members to carry other gear in their own personal BOB’s without fear of leaving something out.

  11. GrilledAsparagus says

    Some good friends of mine just lost their home in the Colorado wildfire. They were anxiously watching weather reports and wind shifts and beginning to worry, when there was a knock at the door with civil authorities telling them they had 30 minutes to evacuate. Mom was very happy she had BoBs all packed for everyone, she had 30 minutes to pack up all their photos and a few mementos and heirlooms, pack up the car with the kids and pets and drive to a friend’s house. A day later, the friend’s house was evacuated in EXACTLY the same way (knock at the door, evacuate in 30 minutes). Both houses were complete losses. Anything they didn’t take with them was gone forever. That’s more than enough convincing for me that BoBs are a great idea. Please pray for my friends as they try to reconstruct their lives and work their way through the insurance nightmares.

  12. Linda says

    No BoB here are three actual scenerios that would fit your less than 30 minutes but more than a few seconds demands…these are/were real scenerios:
    1) A gas leak in your neighborhood….happened in Boston this year…hundreds of people were given 30 minutes exactly to evacuate their homes in the middle of the night.
    2) The Boston Marathon bomber attack. The people of Watertown,MA (under what was as close to martial law as I’ve ever seen) were ordered by the police to “bug in”….they could have just as easily ordered a mandatory evacuation to clear the area. A friend of mine on the Boston police dept confirms that evacuation was discussed as a potential plan.
    3) A neighborhood fire: my mother, who lives in NY, was ordered by the fire department to evacuate her home in 30 minutes due to high winds and close proximity to the home on fire. She was able to return 24 hours later, but prior to that, the roads were blocked and only emergency personnel were allowed through.
    You see, No Bob, it doesn’t always have to be an act of God or some crazy political situation or TEOTWAWKI … these situations just happen. Bugging out doesn’t automatically make you a refugee…that’s where a solid plan comes in handy. I take comfort in knowing that if I had to leave my immediate vicinity for one of that above mentioned scenerios, I have several different locations I can go to which are prearranged…I’ve mapped out several routes to each location in case the primary route is impassable for whatever reason…and I can just grab a few things and go without hesitation and with peace of mind that my family will not feel like refugees, rather, like we’ve taken an impromptu vacation.

    On another note, Lisa, I saw somewhere on youTube where there were 2 families (test) run through the evacuation under 30 minutes scenerio : one that was prepared and one that was not…and they were interviewed afterward. It was a very powerful video, especially seeing the chaos in the family who didn’t have a plan and listening to their post-scenerio interviews.

    I keep a packed toiletry duffle bag with duplicate medications for the whole family and use it every road trip or vacation…saves a lot of time packing. My childrens clothing are in outfits on hangers in their closets: packing’s a cinch… grab as many hangers as days needed of clothes. Getting dressed every morning even easier: just pick something from your closet! Little everyday household organization ideas make a huge difference!
    Also, we have a portable fire safe which not only contains valuables and important documents but negatives of our wedding photos and discs of all of our family photos, scaned children’s artwork, etc.
    Now, on the “to do” list: scedule a mock evacuation and see how we do!

  13. JustAnotherJen says

    This blog never fails to be helpful. I have been visiting for months and have done some preparedness baby steps. However, reading this post I reflect on how it always takes us to two hours of misery just to get out of the house on a simple weekend trip to the grandparents’! Let alone a 30-minute evacuation! Thanks for highlighting the importance of this issue.

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