It was Day 3 of the flooding following Hurricane Harvey that I finally told my kids, “Get your emergency kits ready to go by the back door. We may have to leave if the flooding gets any closer.”
Day by day, hour by hour, floodwaters had crept closer to our neighborhood. One street at a time was reporting flooded cars and homes, and I was starting to think we would be next. After all, just the night before we had heard on the radio, “Residents, get on your rooftops, wave something white, and wait to be rescued by boat.”
That announcement was for people just a half-mile away, and reality hit me hard. We could easily be next.
Your emergency can happen in just seconds
Whether it’s floodwater, fire, or some other calamity, you may have just seconds to make the decision for an emergency evacuation, and in those seconds, there won’t be time to make rational decisions.
When I first began thinking about the possibility of evacuating from our home, I visualized sheer panic. Immediately, I realized the need for a written list of procedures posted in two or three locations and a family meeting or two to ensure that everyone was informed and on board. As I put our evacuation plan together, five basic steps became apparent as did the need to assign certain tasks to certain family members in order to make the evacuation swift and organized.
When everyone has designated jobs and knows exactly what to do, your family can be packed and out of town before most other families grab their toothbrushes. To make this happen and avoid hysteria, chaos, and needless tears, your family needs to organize an emergency evacuation plan. Bugging out can be better streamlined and less traumatic than you might think.
Follow these five simple steps to create and organize your own emergency evacuation plan!
1. Make provisions for animals
I put this at the top of my list because of the words in Proverbs 12:10a, “The godly care for their animals,” and because I’m crazy about our two dogs and 3 cats. There were so many unnecessary tragedies that involved beloved pets in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and other disasters, and after watching that unfold, I determined that I would never leave ours behind.
Bugging out is difficult enough for the human members of the family, but the excitement, fear, and flurry of activity will be highly stressful for your animals.
Once you’ve made the decision to evacuate, one of the first steps should be to determine how best to care for each animal. Certainly, most cats and dogs will need to be either evacuated with you or transferred to a safer location. Either way, you don’t need them underfoot as you rush around, so a first step will be to put them in crates or carriers. Delegate this task to one or two family members.
Depending on the size of your dogs and cats, you may want to first load their crate in your vehicle and then the animal(s). So, first on my list is to load the dog crates in the Tahoe, and put each dog inside. Prior to this we’ve been taking them on frequent drives around town so being in a crate is more of a treat than something to be feared.
Pre-position collars, leashes, and water and food bowls in the crate, along with some dog food, double-bagged in two large Zip-Locs. (Ants love dog food!) Add the dog, and you’re good to go!
If your cat isn’t used to being in a carrier, now is the time for Crate-the-Cat practice! Along with her crate, pack a small package of kitty litter and her food.
If you’re the proud owner of fish, reptiles, rodents and/or farm animals, consider whether or not you’ll take them along, leave them on their own with a plentiful supply of food and water, or transport them to another location. Have a Plan B for their care in case circumstances suddenly change. For more specific tips, read this.
2. Personal necessities, food, and water
While the designated family member is rounding up the animals, delegate who will be responsible for the following.
- Load 72 Hour Kits, (aka Bug Out Bags or Emergency Kits) if you have them. Take some time now to put together and organize these kits while you have time and are not under any duress. I carry a Vehicle 72 Hour Kit in my Tahoe at all times in case of emergencies while we’re on the road. If we only had time to grab our Kits, at least we’d have the most necessary items for survival to get us through the first three or four days.
- Load firearms and ammunition. Guns are one of the first things vandals look for, and I don’t want ours getting into the wrong hands. In a worst-case scenario, we may need them for defense. If our family is bugging out, hundreds or even thousands of people will be doing the same thing, and they may not all be law-abiding citizens.
- Cash. I usually keep this in twenty-dollar bills or smaller. In case of a widespread electrical outage, ATMs and credit/debit card machines may not be working, and I want to be sure we can pay for hotels, gas, and food. A roll of quarters is a good idea if you may be washing clothes at a laundromat.
- An emergency toilet: a handy-dandy five-gallon bucket with plastic liners. This bucket can also hold a couple of small blankets, toilet paper and a bottle of bleach/water mixture. You can even buy a toilet seat designed to fit one of these buckets. I’ve read accounts of the Hurricane Ike evacuation in 2008, and I don’t want my family using the side of the road as a toilet. Enough said. You might also want to get a product called Eco-Gel, which handles the smelly side of the emergency toilet.
- Load additional food and water, as much as there is room for. Your 72 Hour Kits will contain emergency provisions, but extra food will always come in handy. Collapsible water containers are a good option since they gradually take up less space as they’re emptied. Keep in mind that you’ll have access to grocery stores, convenience stores, fast food places, and restaurants along the way, but a stash of handy foods that are ready-to-eat will help your family make quick progress along your evacuation route.
- Bedding items, such as sleeping bags, blankets, and pillows will add comfort and reassurance. How much you can take with you will depend on how much room you have left in your vehicle. I always keep a couple of lightweight blankets rolled up under the back seat, just in case.
- Pack any tools you might need. A claw hammer or a Phillips screw driver might make all the difference in the world in a survival scenario.
- Family heirlooms and valuables, including photos. Now, before a crisis hits, would be a good time to transfer irreplaceable photos and documents to CDs and/or zip drives. It’s much easier to grab a few CDs than armfuls of photo albums, or, if you’re like me, boxes of loose photos.
3. Prepare the House
As you drive away from your home, no doubt you’ll have feelings of sadness and, perhaps, loss. A written plan to protect your home will increase the chances of having a home to come home to. Here is a checklist I’ve used.
- Turn off gas and water.
- Go out to your electrical panel and switch off everything except for the breakers marked for the kitchen.
- In the winter, take steps to avoid frozen pipes.
- Unplug everything in the house except the refrigerator, freezer and a lamp. Even if our entire neighborhood is evacuated, I would just rather my home look occupied.
- Shut down and unplug the computers.
- Close and lock all windows. Close blinds and curtains.
- If your emergency requires it, board up the windows or put up your storm shutters.
- Depending on the current weather, turn off air conditioner and/or heat or set them at minimal levels. (Make sure to leave those breakers in the ‘on’ position on your electrical panel.)
4. Pack important documents and a computer
- Load our strongbox. (This contains originals of things like Social Security cards and birth certificates.)
- Pack my Grab-and-Go Binder containing copies of vital financial and family documents and my Survival Mom Binder with printed information helpful in emergencies, such as maps and water purification instructions.
- Use a flash drive to save important business and financial information from our desktop computer. Pack flash drive with the laptop.
- Pack our laptop computer. Be sure to include the charger!
- Pack charged battery packs to keep electronics going, and make sure there are chargers for everyone’s phones in the car.
5. Ensure the vehicle is ready to go
Hopefully, you’ve been keeping an eye on weather and news reports and have made sure your vehicle’s gas tank is full. In addition to that simple, obvious step, here are a few more.
- Load extra filled gas cans if you have them.
- Check the air pressure of tires.
- Be sure you have everything necessary for dealing with a flat tire, including a spare.
- If your vehicle is likely to need it, pack extra engine oil and other fluids.
Delegate, Post, and Rehearse
Now that your plan is finished, discuss each step with your family and delegate each task to family members. Even the youngest will want to be useful, and in a crisis situation, assigned tasks will help defuse feelings of panic or confusion. It’s more difficult to become hysterical when you have something to organize and focus on. Not impossible, just more difficult!
There’s one final step. Will this really work? How much time will it take, and will there be any room for passengers in your vehicle once it’s loaded? It’s now time for an evacuation drill. This will help refine your plan and give everyone a real-life rehearsal. Post your final plan around the house, and then, when they least expect it, start the drill.
The actual emergency evacuation drill
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 emergency evacuation plan streamlined and speedy.
- 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.
- Make a master list of what must not be left behind and keep that list with your emergency evacuation plans.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Do you have cases of water bottles ready to grab? Where is the water you will pack with you?
- Don’t forget your pets. Determine now if they will go or stay, and then prepare accordingly.
- 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?
- 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?
- Where will you go? Once you’re in your vehicle, along with all your carefully planned and packed supplies, now what?
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.
- What was your actual time or did you have to call it quits after two hours?
- Who remembered their assigned tasks? Who forgot?
- If your thirty minute goal wasn’t met, what can be done to speed up the process?
- 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.