Often when facing an impending disaster the question becomes whether to evacuate or “Shelter-in-Place.” There is no real definitive answer, because it really all depends on the nature of the emergency, where you live, what your preparedness level is, and the makeup of your family.
We have all seen the images on the news of the stalwart New Englanders, or laissez faire “Conchs” in Key West, who refuse to leave in the face of a Hurricane, even if they are in a mandatory evacuation zone. Sometimes they did they right thing, and other times – there were tragic results.
Before ultimately making the decision to stay or “Bug Out”, you must be thoroughly prepared to do either.
Being prepared for a potential evacuation should be part of your risk assessment .You may immediately know that you live in a “ Hurricane Evacuation Zone” or “Flood Zone” due to your proximity to the coastline or other bodies of water. If so, your local Emergency Preparedness Agencies will have most likely already created and clearly marked designated evacuation routes. Be sure you are familiar with them. Also be sure you have alternatives to the official routes, if they became too jammed up and impassible.
If you know that you live in such an area, I always recommend that you have a designated 4-Wheel Drive “Bug Out” vehicle. Be sure it is gassed up, in good repair, and ready to go at all times. If you live on a Barrier Island, or some other coastal area, with a single road access in and out, such as a bridge or causeway – when a storm is impending, you may want to consider parking your vehicle on the other side of the roadway in walking distance, where you can get to it to Bug Out, before the weather gets too bad, or the traffic too jammed up.
Road Conditions Can Be Harsh During an Evacuation
Remember, if you’re going to leave there is a chance that traveling by roads under normal conditions may not be possible, especially the later you decide to evacuate. Communications, public transportation, streetlights, traffic signals, and other infrastructure that normally make traveling by road easy, may not be functioning.
As part of your evacuation plan you must be prepared to travel by foot if necessary. You should know your evacuation route before an emergency occurs. Drive it several times, looking for spots along the route for shelter or other facilities in the event that you may be forced to leave your vehicle and make your escape by foot.
Making the Decision to Stay or Bug Out
If an official evacuation order is given, unless you are very sure of your supplies, and your survival skills to shelter in place, you should always follow a mandatory evacuation order. Better safe than sorry. In the absence of official evacuation orders from federal, state or local authorities, you should evacuate when there is an immediate risk such as:
- If you smell gas, smoke or see fire or otherwise fear for your safety, evacuate household occupants immediately. From a safe location, call 911 and report the incident.
- If local officials issue general evacuation orders, use the evacuation routes and methods specified; carpool whenever possible.
Other Evacuation Considerations
If you do decide to evacuate, of course, bring your Go Bag, and in addition:
- Wear sturdy shoes, long-sleeve shirts and pants.
- Bring car keys, credit cards, road maps, cell phone, charger and important phone numbers.
- If you have a pet, make sure it is wearing a collar, bring it in a pet carrier labeled with your name and the pet’s name.
- Lock your home and shut off the water and electricity, but leave gas on unless instructed otherwise.
- Leave a note or tell a neighbor where you are going.
- If you are separated from other family members, go to your prearranged meeting point.
If you do choose to evacuate, it is best that you go to a prearranged friend or relative’s location out of the evacuation zone. However, if such a place is not available, or inaccessible due to the circumstance of the emergency you may need to go to an Emergency Shelter.
With the exception of the aforementioned municipal orders to shelter- in-place due to an environmental hazard, you may choose to shelter-in-place to “ride out a storm” or other impending disaster. This is not advisable to do, if an official order to evacuate is given – however that decision is always your own.