An evacuation can be pretty scary, even for adults. Just as there are all kinds of reasons to evacuate, there are all kinds of unknowns.
- Do you know where you will be evacuating to?
- How long will you be gone?
- What do you need? What don’t you need?
- Do you even know where your shoes are?
Running around gathering up all your stuff is pretty hectic, even when you have all the answers. From a little kid’s perspective, all that chaos can be overwhelming. You can easily diminish the stress of the event by holding regular evacuation drills with your family.
Practice is the part of emergency evacuation that is least exercised but arguably most important. It’s easy enough to buy a 72-hour kit and explain to the kids what it’s for, but it’s less easy to set aside the time for an evacuation drill. For some reason, this part of preparedness often takes a backseat. This is especially true if you live in an area that hasn’t experienced a natural disaster in some time.
Our First Evacuation Drill
In the spirit of research, (and also in the spirit of practicing what I preach) we finally set aside the time to actually, in real life, do a trial run of our evacuation plan. Here’s what our trial run looked like:
Before our drill, my husband and I sat down with the kids (ages 6, 4, 2, and 2 months) and planned out what we would be doing and who was responsible for what. Each child capable of walking would be responsible for his or her own emergency kit, comfort items, and shoes. Mom (that’s me!) would take charge of the baby and make sure we had all of her relevant supplies. Dad would grab some extra containers of water, and any handy snacks that happened to be in the pantry.
We made excellent time – all four kids were buckled in the minivan along with our 72 hour kits in 4 minutes, 55 seconds. We congratulated ourselves and took a victory lap around the block. It wasn’t until after we unloaded and put everything away that we realized we had forgotten a lot of stuff:
- We didn’t turn off the main water line.
- The clothes dryer was still running.
- We forgot to lock the front door (but not the back).
- Only my husband remembered to bring a coat.
- I remembered my cell phone, but not the charger.
My youngest was born with a cleft palate, and I remembered to grab all her taping supplies for her face, but didn’t realize until after our drill was complete that her dental appliance had fallen out and was left behind in her baby swing. If our evacuation had been for real, that would have been an absolute disaster.
We learned some other things, too. Even though everyone knew this was for practice and we weren’t actually in any danger of zombie attack, my two-year-old panicked. “I can’t find my blankie! Where’s my other shoe?” I told her, as I was packing up the baby’s things, that she should check upstairs in her room, but for some reason she could only walk around in circles in the living room worrying herself sick. In contrast, my oldest had his shoes, socks, favorite toy, and 72 hour kit in hand and was the first one to be buckled into the car. The four-year-old cheated and found his own favorite toy and blanket long before I started the stop watch, the second I announced the evacuation drill.
READ MORE: Do most people think clearly and rationally when under the gun with a real life emergency evacuation? Read this.
We experienced a slight hiccup when the 2-year-old was unable to lift her own 72-hour kit. She struggled along with it out to the car for about five feet before collapsing into a puddle of toddler frustration. Only later did we realize that she had been trying to lift her older brother’s kit – the two kits are in identical bags.
My husband, whose brain switched into autopilot when we began our drill, briefly forgot that we had a fourth child. Not until we unpacked the car did he turn to me and ask, “Oh, no! Did we forget the baby?” (No.) In his defense, she was in a really quiet mood at the time.
- EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW: My book, Emergency Evacuations, is your handbook for planning and carrying out quick and safe evacuations. Add it to your family’s survival library today! (Kindle and paperback)
What We Will Do Differently In The Future
So knowing how our trial run went – the good and the bad – how will this impact our future drills, or even a real evacuation?
- We’ll be more likely to remember everything. Even though we had forgotten those crucial items in our drill, knowing what we forgot will mean that we’re less likely to forget those same things in the future. Our focus this first time was on speed. While speed is important, thoroughness is also necessary. With a lightning-fast time of 4:55, we know we can afford to slow down just a tiny bit to take a deep breath while looking around the living room for forgotten cell phone chargers and unlocked doors.
- We restructured some responsibilities. Our oldest was perfectly fine taking care of himself, and was the first one ready to go. The two-year-old, though, needed some extra help, so the logical course of action was to give the oldest an extra assignment to help his sister. Next time, he is to gather all of his things and put them by the door, and then offer whatever assistance he can to his younger siblings. My husband and I talked about re-doing our own assignments as well, with my focus being more on the kids (since, you know, I didn’t forget about any of them) while he concentrates on packing up the car.
- Identical bags is not a good thing. A four-year-old is capable of lifting a much heavier bag than a two-year-old. We need to get a different backpack for one child, or do something else to differentiate between the two so this mistake doesn’t happen again.
- Practice means less likelihood of panic next time. Everyone will know what to expect, what to do, where to go, and who will need extra help. The next drill will happen soon, probably within the next few months, to keep it fresh in everyone’s memory.
What Else Should Be Practiced?
Evacuations aren’t the only thing that we need to drill with our kids. Schools, businesses, and military bases around the world participate in fire and earthquake drills. If it’s good enough for Amelia Earhart Elementary down the street, it’s probably good enough for all of us.
In my neck of the woods, the local government sponsors annual earthquake drills. I’ve taken the opportunity to participate in them with my kids when I can (it usually involves hiding under the kitchen table), and I’ve found this to be very helpful. When the recent earthquake in Ecuador came up as a topic of conversation, my 4-year-old interrupted to say exactly what he would do if we experienced one at home. His personal emergency plan was exactly the one we had discussed and practiced as a family. That’s my boy!
If disasters like earthquakes and tornadoes are a fact of life where you live, here’s one more tip.
Recent reports of the horrific tornado season made me think of a common piece of advice, “Have some form of I.D. on yourself and your kids.” Well, in the midst of chaos, I’ll be lucky to find my wallet much less my kids’ homeschool I.D. cards, but what if there were something easier? What if there was a type of I.D. that you could keep hanging on a bedpost? Something like a lanyard would fill the bill.
The I.D. card itself doesn’t have to be official. It can be as simple as a school photograph with information printed on the back: name, birthdate, address, parent’s cell phone, medical conditions (if any), and then laminated. Lanyards are inexpensive enough, heck, you probably have one or two around the house, in order to have one by each bed, a set in an emergency shelter, and others in emergency kits.
Instruct your kids to put on their lanyards as soon as they hear a warning siren go off or feel a tremblor. Have a drill or two, or three, until you are sure they know where their lanyards are kept and know what to do with them.
Emergencies are scary enough without worrying about your kids wandering off or emergency workers finding family members injured or unconscious without any identification. A lanyard I.D. for every member of the family is an easy way to make sure this small, but important, detail is covered.
Fire drills, admittedly, can be a little tricky because they often involve climbing out windows. All the more reason to practice! Invest in a decent fire escape ladder, and help your kids become comfortable climbing down them. If you have very young children who cannot climb on their own, then I encourage you, the parent, to become proficient at using a rope ladder while carrying a kid with one arm. I confess this is a skill that I have not yet mastered, but it’s one that I know will be really good to have.
Have you practiced your evacuation plans as a family? If so, we’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Resources to help you prepare
- Countdown to Preparedness by Jim Cobb
- Emergency Evacuations: Get out fast when it matters most by Lisa Bedford
- “Packing Your Pet’s Evacuation Kit“
- The Preppers Blueprint by Tess Pennington
- The Prepper’s Pocket Guide by Bernie Carr
- “2 Types of Emergency Evacuations: Urgent and Planned“
- SAS Survival Handbook by John ‘Lofty’ Wiseman
- Survival Mom: How to Prepare Your Family for Everyday Disasters and Worst Case Scenarios by Lisa Bedford