If your family is faced with a disaster one of your first concerns will be, "where will we go for safety?" It would be ideal if you could huddle in your home with your candles lit and food storage cans open. However, there are many possible situations in which you would not be able to use your home as a refuge from the storm. Floods, hurricanes, war times, lightning storms, earthquakes, chemical spills, and fires all have the potential of forcing you from your home. If you do not have an evacuation plan your family will experience unnecessary discomfort and even life-threatening circumstances. With preparation, you can have food, first aid, and transportation for your whole family. You can also be content knowing your home will be in good order while you are gone.
72 Hour Emergency Kits
A 72 hour emergency kit is essential for emergency evacuations. An evacuation kit will be similar to other emergency kits you have learned about. It should include things such as: A three-day supply of food and water; shovel, knife, or other tools; tent; rain poncho; blankets; communication devices such as a whistle and radio; light sources ( candles, matches, lightsticks); water sanitation kit; sewing kit; utensils; hygiene kit (soap, toothbrush, tissue, etc), and a first aid kit. An emergency kit should fit into one bag so that each person, even young children, can easily carry his or her own kit.
With 72 hour emergency kits on their backs, your family is ready to go. But where should you go? Your house may be uninhabitable for weeks depending on the type of disaster. Your community will provide public shelters such as schools, churches, National Guard armories, or other large public buildings. To find out in advance which location has been prepared to be a public shelter, contact your local emergency services office or police department.
Other shelter options are available if public buildings have been damaged or you can't reach them. Family and friends should be contacted in advance about using their homes as evacuation locations. Also, your local library has literature about emergency shelters that you can make in your own back yard. Tree houses or underground shelters can provide optimal protection under certain circumstances. When building your own shelter, consider the emergencies that may occur in your area
Whatever shelter you plan for, it is a good idea to keep a map readily available to all family members that outlines the route to the shelter. If you are called to assist others in the community, or if a disaster happens while you are away at work, your family needs access to this map so they can reach the shelter while you are unavailable. Before a disaster hits your area, use this map to practice evacuating with your family. Think of the disasters that would most likely occur in your area and pretend the disaster has happened. Research shows that people panic less in familiar situations.
Once you are comfortable with where you should go, you need many ways to get there. In most cases, roads will be available for evacuation. If this is the case, there are still things to prepare for. It is a good idea to keep your gas tank at least half full at all times because gas stations may be packed with customers or may even be inoperable. Traffic jams can also be a major problem. Planning alternate routes can relieve you of traffic-related tensions. If you are driving, leave as quickly as possible. Disasters usually worsen with time as flood waters rise and branches and power lines fall on roadways. Listen to the radio as you drive to keep updated on route possibilities and disaster coverage.
If you can't drive to a shelter, you can bike or walk away from your area. Bicycles can be equipped with racks or trailers for carrying evacuation items. Clothing suitable for all kinds of weather should be worn if your family is biking or walking. If you have to bike or hike out, remember that you will also need more water to compensate for the exertion.
One more consideration for transportation is the distress that will be felt by those with handicaps. Nursing home and retirement communities will be severely troubled when an evacuation is necessary. Think about ways in which you can lend a hand to help them. Extra emergency kits and room in a vehicle can mean life or death for them. Also, their mature knowledge and experience may come in handy.
Putting Your House in Order
If you have to leave your home for an extended amount of time it is important to leave your house in good order. Just packing up and leaving can put your home at risk of damage you don't want to come home to. Frozen pipes in cold weather will cause an indoor flood, and fires can leave your house in ashes. When you practice your evacuation plan with your family, go through a checklist of turning off all lights and appliances (everything but the refrigerator), and, in cold weather, turning on your faucets to a slow drip (to prevent the pipes from freezing). Show your family where the house's central switches and valves are for turning off all of the utilities in case main city pipes have been damaged by the emergency.
Evacuations can be hectic, even life threatening; or they can be well-planned procedures. The main point is to plan ahead! Think of the unique circumstances of your family and prepare for their safety. Prepare emergency kits for each person, plan where you will evacuate to, and how you will get there. Put your house in order as you lock the door behind you and you will soon be headed back to a nice, safe home.
Barbara Salisbury's Emergency Evacuation 1986 Deseret Book Company.
Esther Dickey's Skills for Survival 1988 Horizon Publishers.