Saturday, September 12, 2020

50 Evacuation Tips

With a lot of the west coast on fire and folks on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts always on alert to evacuate, especially during hurricane season, I'll toss out these tips in case you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of needing to evacuate your home at a moment's notice:

  1. Put news and other info sources on your cell phone so you can stay informed of developing disaster situations (examples here and here).
  2. Put emergency alert apps on your phone as well (examples here and EAS alerts for your area).
  3. Put a go bag together now to use in an emergency.  Make one bag for each family member and one for your pets.
  4. Put all of your medications in one spot (like in one plastic storage box with a lid) so you can grab your meds on the way out the door.
  5. Speaking of meds, take a picture of every prescription medication you have so that if they need to be replaced you will have the info on your phone.
  6. Pre-plan multiple evacuation routes from your home.  Have both paper maps of your area as well as off-line Google maps on your phone in case you need to reroute while evacuating.
  7. You can usually Google the name of the incident and evacuation shelters if you have no where to evacuate to.  Most counties set these up once the incident command system has been set up for the disaster.
  8. If you don't have a vehicle or are otherwise unable to evacuate yourself, make this the most pressing part of your emergency planning.  Do you have a dirt bike you could use, can you pre-plan with neighbors to go with them when they evacuate, can your home-health nurse direct you to assistance to help you in an emergency?
  9. Evacuate as early as possible (you don't want to be caught in the hoards all trying to leave the same place, on the same packed roads, because you waited so long to go).  People with severe health problems (ie: require medical equipment to live, have serious chronic health conditions, women due to give birth within a month or so, people needing dialysis, etc) should evacuate even earlier.  Even if it is a "false alarm", better safe than sorry.
  10. Prioritize evacuating due to what can kill you fastest.  I know people who have barely left their homes since March due to covid but in the case of a wildfire or hurricane heading your way and being afraid to leave and catch covid, leave.  Wildfires and hurricanes can easily kill you, covid probably won't (plus you will be able to get to medical care eventually anyway).  Wildfires and hurricanes aren't so forgiving.  Here's some covid tips during a disaster.
  11. Plan now to have multiple places you could evacuate to, in your local area, across the state, and even across the country if necessary.  Coordinate ahead with family or friends if you intend to stay with them, and realize that local hotels near the disaster area may be fully booked so if this is your plan you may need to go even further away than you planned.
  12. When you are evacuating, look for and avoid hazards like downed trees, downed power lines, flooded roads, etc.
  13. Make a checklist of what you will need to grab and throw in your vehicle when, dog, go bags, box of irreplaceable items, meds, laptops, cell phones, etc.  You want the irreplaceable items to be pre-staged together because you won't have time to go through the house and decide what to take with you during an emergency evacuation.  You also want your checklist to be as thorough as possible because in a high-stress situation you may not remember all of the normal things you wouldn't otherwise write it down.  Everything.
  14. Conduct regular evacuation drills with the entire family and try to improve your time with each event.  
  15. Have a family communication plan as well as a family evacuation/reunification plan.  Family members may not all be together when a disaster strikes so everyone needs to have several places they could meet up at and a way to contact each other.
  16. Be sure your vehicle is always ready to go.  Make sure it is in good working order, insured, the gas tank is more than half full, be able to completely fill the tank with reserve gas before you leave, etc.
  17. Always have a good amount of emergency cash on hand as well as a couple of zero-balance credit cards to use in an emergency evacuation.
  18. Regularly update your home inventory video and keep a back up copy of this video with you in case you need to file an insurance claim after a disaster.
  19. When you have spare time, try to digitize (scan and save to your computer) as many documents and pictures as you can.  In the event of an emergency leaving with all of your important pictures and documents on a small USB drive is much easier than lugging crates and crates of hard copy documents with you.
  20. Regularly back up all of your computer files.  This way even if you lose your computer you will still have all of your files.
  21. Make sure you have appropriate insurance for your situation including home insurance/renter's insurance as well as additional insurance for expensive jewelry or collectibles, flood insurance, etc.
  22. If you have time, make a sign and tape it to your front door that tells emergency personnel that you have evacuated.  We have evacuated to ______ on date/time via route __________.  And your cell number.
  23. Also, throw a coin on top of anything that is liquid but frozen in the freezer like the ice cube tray or sauce, etc.  If you come back and the coin is on the bottom of the item it will probably mean you should throw all of your food out as the power had been out long enough to allow the frozen item to defrost.
  24. If you have livestock, pre-plan how they will be evacuated during an emergency.  If it is impossible to evacuate them, leave gates and pens open so they won't be trapped and they may be able to save themselves.  Also, chip your pets and livestock for easier identification if you get separated.
  25. Use social media to seek assistance if needed.  During the Oregon wildfires this week people have been using social media for everything from seeking rides out of the area for themselves to asking for help/trailers to evacuate their livestock.  
  26. Listen to local radio stations on your vehicle's radio for the most up-to-date evacuation information when you are leaving.  Ditto, if you know a hurricane or wildfire may be heading your way, keep the local news on TV to ensure you have the most current info on the situation in your area in the time leading up to your evacuation.
  27. If you choose to ignore evacuation warnings, understand that calling 911 for help when TSHTF most likely won't result in a quick rescue; they won't send people out to rescue you until after the disaster has passed as they don't want to unnecessarily risk the lives of rescuers.  Also use a Sharpie to write your social security number on your arm to make your body easier to identify after the disaster.
  28. Be aware of local conditions before you go camping/go on vacation/head out hunting/etc.  Your area may be fine but the situation at your destination may be on the edge of an apocalypse due to a natural disaster like a wildfire of hurricane.
  29. Have a NOAA weather alert radio if you live in tornado/hurricane-prone area.  If the disaster happens at night, you want to be alerted immediately.
  30. When packing your vehicle to evacuate, bring the very least amount of stuff possible (people, pets, go bags, some food, some water, camping supplies).  Most stuff is easily replaceable, lives aren't so leave unnecessary stuff behind and get out as quickly as possible.
  31. If you can, without endangering yourself and your family, assist others if possible.  If you see people trying to walk out of an evacuation area, tell them to hop into the back of the truck and help them escape the area.  Check on elderly neighbors as soon as you know you may need to evacuate to ensure they are ready to evacuate too.  
  32. Prepare your home ahead of time, if you have time and will be evacuating.  How to prepare your home to evacuate a wildfire and how to prepare your home to evacuate a hurricane.
  33. Be sure to throw disaster-specific items into your vehicle before you leave (pre-staged, of course).  Masks and goggles to protect your nose and eyes in a wildfire area, a chainsaw and fuel in tornado/hurricane areas, work gloves and work boots if you will be doing clean up, etc.
  34. Be sure you bring enough bottled water and easy to eat food with you.  Local stores may be shuttered and outlying stores may be low on stock so the more food and water you can bring with you the better.
  35. Know where you can get assistance once you evacuate the area if needed.  Places like the Red Cross, your local or state DEM, FEMA, etc. all usually have disaster assistance programs to help displaced people.
  36. Bring a HAM radio with you.  In large-scale disasters, cell towers may be down and a HAM radio may be your only means of communication until you get to an area that hasn't been impacted by the disaster.
  37. Also bring plenty of entertainment items with you.  After the heart-stopping chaos of evacuating, there will be a lot of waiting.  Waiting for the disaster to clear, waiting to see if you can return home, waiting for FEMA and insurance companies to do their thing, etc.
  38. Determine the GPS coordinates of your home and record this in your emergency plan.  People go back to their neighborhood after a major hurricane or wildfire and can't even locate where their home should be because all of the normal markers are gone; knowing the GPS coordinates will help with this.
  39. Document everything.  Record and save receipts for all expenses (gas, food, hotel, etc), write down what you did daily after the evacuation, who you spoke to at the insurance company, the FEMA rep you talked to, etc.  All of this will help with your insurance claim afterwards.
  40. When you return to your home, photograph everything.  This too will help with your insurance claim.  Be sure to get the OK from FEMA/your insurance company before doing any cleaning/demo work/repairs/etc.
  41. Other than the judicious use of social media to alert friends that you are OK or to ask for specific help, try to avoid social media in general for a while (conspiracy theories, inaccurate reports of mass looting, and generally bad/incorrect information is being widely shared on social media now and people don't need to deal with this added stress in addition to the disaster at hand). 
  42. Be prepared to shelter yourself, feed yourself, provide your own power (like a battery pack), keep yourself warm/cool, provide basic medical care for yourself, etc.  Sometimes during large-scale disasters it may take many hours or even days for any sort of help to come, even if you have evacuated yourself from the initial disaster area.
  43. Be careful after a disaster that the appliances you use (generator, gas grill, etc) when the power is still out won't kill you with carbon monoxide; this is an unfortunately common event when people return home after an evacuation and utilities aren't yet on.
  44. If you have lost track of a loved one during a disaster, use Safe and Well and Facebook to try to locate them.  Your local disaster agency may also have a system for connecting people after a disaster.
  45. Before a disaster strikes, use you free time to learn about preparing for the most common disasters.  There is unending material to study on this topic on the internet and YouTube.
  46. Join your local Community Emergency Response Team.  These organizations provide free training, free gear, and free practice opportunities.  There are other ways to learn free disaster/survival skills in your community as well including volunteering for the Red Cross or Search and Rescue team, volunteering as an EMT or volunteer firefighter, etc.
  47. Try to buy your bug out bag gear/emergency gear as soon as possible, even if there is no disaster looming.  You want to avoid the hoards who will strip store shelves bare in the days before/day of a disaster. 
  48. Should you carry a firearm when you evacuate?  For many people this is a bug out bag staple but be sure you are properly licensed to carry the firearm and that if you are leaving your state, know the laws of the other states you will be going into.
  49. After your evacuation experience, jot down your "lessons learned" and if possible, share them with others as a way to help others be prepared for a disaster in the future (also update your evacuation checklist with anything that was missed/incorrect).
  50. If you will be doing your own clean up after a disaster, learn how to do it safely.

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