How to Establish Multiple Safe Houses in Times of Need

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How to Establish Multiple Safe Houses in Times of Need via The Survival Mom

A few years ago I had the opportunity to speak before a large group of first responders and emergency planners for the state of Arizona. As I was leaving the conference room, a gentleman came up to me and began explaining to me the plans for evacuating Phoenix.

There are none.

Phoenix, like many American cities, is massive in size, both in population and geographically. Rather than trying to get everyone out of Phoenix, which would be impossible, the plan is to move one endangered neighborhood to a safer place within the city.

For example, if major flooding hit the southern part of the city, only those residents would need to be evacuated and they would be sent to shelters in other parts of the Phoenix area. If those evacuees have friends or relatives in safer areas, they have a “bug out location.” If not, they’ll be farmed out to any shelter that has room to house them.

PREPPER TIP: This book is a complete guide for planning and carrying out any emergency evacuation — plenty of lists and checklists, too.

Considering the size and scope of even a small evacuation, having plans to evacuate to multiple safe locations within your big city seems like the best possible option for those of us who haven’t yet bought the dream Bug Out Location.

Bug Out Locations are expensive and hard to come by

Many survivalists and preppers plan on bugging out when everything hits the fan or darn near close to it. However, most of these same people simply have nowhere to go.

A true Bug Out Location, as defined by survival experts, is just another name for A Second Home. If the average American could afford a second home, there would be no problem if/when a bug out becomes a necessity.

Instead, though, what if we took a lesson from the Phoenix emergency planner and rather than insisting that a Bug Out Location in the wilds of Montana or Idaho as the only option, establish a network of safe houses within easy walking or driving distances?

Here’s how this might work.

Assess the weaknesses of your home and area

Assess the most likely crises that might affect your neighborhood or city. How bad would conditions have to be before you would need to evacuate? Ask yourself:

  • How might this disaster affect the structure of our home? If the structure is no longer safe, evacuation becomes a necessity.
  • Will it cut off access to/from our home?
  • Might it generate looting and other forms of crime?
  • Do I live near an area that is likely to attract criminal activity?

Something else to consider is whether or not your home and neighborhood has been able to weather similar disasters in the past. If not, this might give you some direction on being better prepared. If so, are you just as prepared last time? What if this next big event is even worse?

Having criteria for evacuating is a really important first step. Often, people  second guess themselves over this decision and some end up making the fatal mistake of waiting too long.

The second step is to consider each possible event and determine how far you would have to go in order to be safe. This is a key consideration.

Take into consideration man-made disasters

Along with natural disasters, such as floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes, it’s important to consder man-made disasters. Which of the following are most likely in your area?

  • Riots, civil unrest — These bring with them arson, looting, random violence
  • Terrorist attack — What, specifically, might be targeted? A sports stadium? Military installation? A dam or water treatment plant?
  • Nuclear event
  • War
  • Chemical leak or explosion
  • Pandemic
  • Biological warfare
  • Economic collapse
  • Electro-Magnetic Pulse  (EMP) or a long term power outage
  • Wildfires — Many are caused by arson or by careless campers.

How far would you have to evacuate to be safe from these events? That will give you an idea of where to start looking for a safe house.

Include personal disasters in your planning:

  • Job loss or reduction in hours
  • Sudden death of a loved one
  • Diagnosis of a serious illness
  • Debilitating injury
  • House fire
  • Bankruptcy
  • Home foreclosure

Not all of these will necessitate leaving your home, but many will. For example, if bankruptcy and home foreclosure is likely, sooner or later, you’ll need to find somewhere safe to live. If you start planning ahead, even if it’s a far-fetched scenario, you won’t be as panicked if it does become a reality.

In the case of a wildfire or a nuclear event, you’ll want to be on the road to safety as quickly as possible.

So where are those safe locations?

At this point, you’ll need a map in order to start listing multiple safe houses. These should be located far enough away so they are not in the same type of immediate danger as your home. For example, if you live in an area that is susceptible to flooding, make sure you have a safe place to go that is out of the danger zone.

For each most-likely scenario, determine how far away is far enough to be safe and start your safe-house search there.

Here are a few different possible safe locations, depending on your immediate crisis.

  • The homes of family and close friends
  • Commercial buildings you own, have permission to access or are owned by friends/family
  • Churches that have offices open during the day
  • Extended family, even those you may not know well
  • Contacts through any organizations you belong to
  • Timeshares — If you have any banked weeks, these could come in handy.
  • Hotels — Make sure they allow pets if you have them.
  • Campgrounds
  • Police and fire stations
  • Hospitals
  • Offices of organizations such as the Red Cross
  • 24-hour retail stores or restaurants

Keep a list handy of all these possible “safe houses”, along with phone numbers. Discuss your plans with any individuals involved and offer your home as a refuge should they be the ones having to flee.

Get prepped before you have to

I don’t know about you, but if beloved family members showed up at our doorstep in need of a safe place to stay, we’d make it happen. That’s what family is all about.

However, if the crisis dragged on, eventually we’d have to start thinking about the expense of providing room and board to these extra people. That’s not being selfish, just realistic.

You’ll be far more welcome at safe houses if you’ve, first, asked permission to stay there in case of a disaster, and second, if bring cash to help with expenses or you’ve stored food, medicines, bedding, and other survival supplies in the corner of a garage or spare room.

If a disaster gives notice of its imminent arrival, a hurricane, for example, you have time to make a trip to your safe house, deliver food, supplies, bedding, etc., just in case you have to make a run for it.

In other words, don’t plan on being a freeloader!

Survival has never been a “one size fits all” venture. It’s all about being flexible and thinking on your feet. Multiple safe locations will give you maximum flexibility when the going gets so rough that it’s time to get out of Dodge.

How to Establish Multiple Safe Houses in Times of Need via The Survival Mom

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I'm the original Survival Mom, and have been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more for 9 years.

12 thoughts on “How to Establish Multiple Safe Houses in Times of Need”

    1. There’s 2 sides to that coin, Charles. The responsibility of the people opening their homes and the responsibility of those in need helping out with expenses, chores, bringing supplies, etc.

  1. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are in danger of a lahar. A side of the mountain will break off, and the a huge vast mud flow will flow into the valley regions. They have warnings, but they must be quick to evacuate. I live up on a higher elevation in the foothills of Mt. Rainer. I went to a planning meeting a few years ago and they said they possibly would be requesting citizens to house some of the population if they were able to. They were also looking at churches, and an old building that is on state grounds but no longer in use. It is interesting to think about, what would happen if several low lying cities had to evacuate? I We all live in the shadow of a great beautiful mountain that we love, but we have to realize it is also a volcano.

  2. You may think that considering family members as freeloaders in a time of need as being selfish, but what if that family member is a freeloader all the time? What if that family member(s) has a substance abuse issue or a mental health problem? What if a certain family member has an illness that is contagious? These are things you need to think about, because every family has one or two that falls under this category. Allowing people like this into your home around your children is very unwise & irresponsible!! The last thing you need in a crisis situation is a dope sick, mentally unstable freeloader around your or your kids! Sometimes it is good to be selfish & put your well being ahead of others!

  3. there’s family and then there’s Family. Immediate family would have to take priority over some random cousin. I also have some ‘family’ members that, when invited, take it upon themselves to include others in the invitation. We have had people show up at parties that we didn’t even know…..”oh I came with so n so”
    sometime we may be faced with hard choices

  4. See my mom worried when without thinking she showed her neighbor her sewing room that also doubled at the time as her food storage. My mom said if something happens they are going to come right over here. I asked her if they had a skill or something that would be useful to her and my dad. She told me he was a carpenter. I said you know it may not be such a bad idea if he is willing to trade his skill and she will kick in with chores let them earn their ways to let them bug in here. She agreed.

  5. We don’t have a bug-out location, but we’ve made use of a safe house at various times. It has woods, water, farmland, and a woodstove. Even in a case of civil unrest, we should be able to walk there with no problem on narrow back roads. The single friend who lives there is mentally ill, but he cares about people and is a fantastic carpenter. He has farming and hunting experience and is a terrific cook! We already know that we’d be welcome there when many of his relatives would not be. No one wants a freeloader around, and family is what you make it. However, I agree with Lisa that guests, no matter the situation, are really only welcome for a certain period of time. This is just a safe house to get us through a crisis. It’s not a permanent second home, and we know every time we go there that we need to move on as quickly as possible. While a bug-out location would be ideal, safe houses are more practical for most of us.

  6. Enjoyed your article, but I think the Emergency Management planners for the greater Phoenix area are a bunch of Ostriches with heads in the sand. Their idea of shelter in another neighborhood only works as long as your dealing with small scale disasters and is short sighted and piss poor planning in my opinion.

    We are truly blessed in AZ that most weather/natural disasters are relatively small in scope, only covering short thin lines, we don’t get the region wide floods, storm surges, or even massive hurricanes or earthquakes seen elsewhere. This makes DEMA and DECA both put on blinders when it comes to their emergency management. Since they have never really had a massive valley wide disaster they don’t believe it could ever happen there, the most they have had is localized flooding, micro-bursts, and the like. All of their disaster have typically been less than a 3 miles wide along a storm track or just along specific washes that overflowed.

    I used to live in the 8 mile ring of Palo Verde Nuclear Generation Station, and was on the Civilian Committee that keeps the community informed, so we were informed about the DEMA/DECA plans. There is two emergencies I never have seen them plan for in my experiences with them.

    1) Nuclear Emergency.
    They have a major 3 reactor Nuke Plant within 55-60 miles of the State Capital Building (as a crow flies) yet there is no plans for evacuation or warning for anyone outside of the 10 mile ring which barely enters into Buckeye City Limits. So 3-4 million citizens will be unaware until they maybe hear it on the tv or radio if there ever was an issue out there at PVNGS. The Plans they do have for Evac for the 10mile ring includes two locations that are downwind of the plant (prevailing winds are east/north east) as they are in the Goodyear area, only one is not in the normal prevailing wind, in Wickenburg. The emergency management “control” facility, located in Buckeye, is just outside of the 10 mile ring and sits in the normal prevailing wind direction as well.

    2) Possible Dam breach.
    With multiple large Reservoirs such as Roosevelt, Saguaro, Canyon, Lake Pleasant and Bartlett upstream from the Phoenix Metro area, there is the potential for a large amount of water to wash in quickly and unexpectedly. I read a study done that if Roosevelt Dam collapsed, it could cause a chain reaction of several other dams along the Salt collapsing, resulting everything from Thomas to Baseline road, close to a 10 mile wide swath, could be flooded, with much of the area on the east side of the valley being swept clean. The same could happen if the Dam at Pleasant collapsed with a several mile wide swath through peoria, surprise, and Avondale being wiped clean. Currently there is no plans for evacuation nor for alerting the public in the danger zones.

    Lastly since they have no concept or plan for a region wide disaster, large scale civil unrest or war, or disaster damaging the entire valley region (close to 100m wide swath..) they have no evacuation plans to get people clear of on coming trouble. So I-10 (east/west) and I-17 North would be their planned routes and either of them could be pushing people right into the oncoming trouble.

    1. Have you been to Phoenix? The whole area has millions of people, is surrounded by hundreds of miles of desert, and in a worst case scenario, very few people will get out alive. I guess the planners are hoping for emergencies in isolated parts of town because anything bigger isn’t worth planning for.

    2. Thanks for your insights. Since Phoenix is pretty well insulated from most of the typical natural disasters that cause destruction elsewhere, the main issue is nuclear, which you mention. You know what the highways are like during rush hour and on holiday weekends. It takes just one or two vehicles that overheat or have engine trouble, and the traffic backs up for miles. It’s insane to think that very many people would make it out of the valley. Add to that, the miles of desert and harsh terrain — I’ve often said that the only way to evacuate Phoenix is to move. Now. (And that’s way easier said than done.)

  7. Lived in the greater pix area from 94-11, tried “evacuating” er.. moving several times and didn’t succeed until recently as work kept bringing me back, now I’m “retired” up in the White Mountains and have no plan to go back for anything other than to occasionally visit family or friends.

    The freeway system is the only real game for evac from a large disaster and like any other major metropolis will have serious issues if they attempt a large scale movement of people. My gripe with DEMA’s emergency plans it that they don’t even attempt to plan for that eventuality because they see it as so remote and unlikely that anything major could happen (PVNGS meltdown, war/civil unrest, major earthquake out of the blue, or some weird freak storm that floods the entire 100x100mile “valley”, long duration grid down scenario, or even forecasted meteor/astroid impact) in the Greater Phoenix area. I think that is stupid and short sighted, the failure to even discuss how or what would be needed to implement that movement will result in delays that could lead to deaths, much like the botched evac for Houston during Hurricane Rita.

    When living down there I had plans for emergency escape out the back roads and highways so I could avoid the interstates, in any needed direction (east, west, south, north) but unfortunately in this state there are many geological blockades that will stop one from having unlimited route of egress via auto. This is much like other area’s back east or north that might have large mountains or waterways that could limit your egress route options and requires much planning and forethought.

    I was looking at the likely area’s I could be traveling on trips into and out of Phoenix now that I’ve moved and the east side of Phoenix is a wet dream for anyone wanting to create choke and ambush points (or even for Murphy’s law of vehicle accidents and breakdowns) as there is only two paved options to get you out of the area to the east, and the dirt roads would be horrible if there was any mass exodus or severe weather on them. Early and timely evac is the only option in that area as the second law and order breaks down there will be raider ambushes or massive jams of traffic/wrecks that would quickly block up those areas making travel impossible.

    The lesson would be that the idea of having multiple “safe locations” prepped and in your plans would be smart, both locally (your county, or less than 100m) and regionally (100-500m) in several different directions. This would allow it so that you can shelter nearby if it is safe, with friends or family, during a small or highly localized emergency, and further away if the balloon goes up or if your local area is no longer safe.

  8. Pingback: 6 Key Things to Do Before, During, and After a Terrorist Attack - Preparedness AdvicePreparedness Advice

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