Evacuations can be caused by a variety of emergencies and are more common than you might think. Fires and floods are the most frequent causes. Almost every year people along coastlines evacuate before hurricanes.
Here in Middle Tennessee, flooding is the most likely natural disaster that would cause an evacuation. People often also need to evacuate due to home fires or nearby industrial, infrastructure, or hazmat incidents.
If there comes a time when you need to evacuate, it’s unlikely you’ll have time to grab all your valuables and prepare your house for the incoming disaster. Preparing now and creating an evacuation checklist for yourself before disaster strikes is the best course of action.
Creating an evacuation plan can be broken down into a few simple steps:
- Where to go. Have three evacuation destination options in mind. Choose destinations in different directions so that you have options during an emergency. Make sure all of them can accommodate pets if needed.
- Evacuation routes. There are two types of routes to create plans for:
- Routes out of the house (e.g. fire or flood).
- Routes to a particular destination, including alternate options in case roads are closed due to weather or traffic. If you do not have a vehicle, make a transportation plan.
- Family communication plan. Know how you will contact each other and where you will meet if separated.
- What to bring. Pack your disaster kit, plus any specific add-on items.
- Keep essentials, including important paperwork, in your kit at all times. Find out what items to include here.
- Each member of the household should have their own disaster kit, stored in an easily accessible place in the house. Prepare a “go-bag” you can carry when you evacuate on foot or public transportation.
- Keep a portable kit in your vehicle.
- Prepare your home
- Prep your yard. Keep tree limbs cut back from your house so they don’t cause damage during a storm.
- Know where your utility shutoffs are located.
- Stockpile sandbag materials. If you live in a flood prone area, keep sandbags on hand. It takes 100 sandbags to create a 1-foot-tall wall that’s 20 feet long.
- Consider getting storm shutters for your windows.
- Have at least 3 different ways to receive emergency alerts.
During an Evacuation
Some evacuations will come with a day or two of warning, others may provide no warning at all. It’s ideal to have a few plans in mind depending on how much time you have.
If you have a few hours or days:
- Have alerts set up from multiple systems and make sure your notifications are on.
- Have your family emergency kits ready, and put them in your car.
- Make sure you know where you are going and the best way to get there. Follow recommended evacuation routes. Do not take shortcuts, they may be blocked.
- Have pets nearby and ready to go.
- If a flood is incoming, move valuable items to upper levels in your house.
- Prepare farm animals for transport.
- Leave early enough to avoid severe weather.
- Let family members know where you are going.
- Clear your yard of hanging branches or anything that may damage your house.
- When leaving, consider shutting off your utilities and be sure to lock your door.
- Use plywood to protect glass windows and doors from breaking in the wind, unless you already have storm shutters.
If you only have a few minutes:
- Grab your emergency kit and pets and evacuate.
If you have no time:
- The highest priority in an evacuation is to get yourself and loved ones to safety as soon as possible. If you need to evacuate immediately (for example, during a house fire) leave all belongings and get to safety!
After an Evacuation
- Check with local media to find out when it is safe to return home.
- Keep in mind that returning home early can be dangerous. Even if the weather has passed, local agencies will need time to clear debris from streets and locate downed power lines.
- Make sure your gas tank is full before returning, and bring plenty of non-perishable food and water to account for any supply shortages in the affected area.
- Don’t light matches or use any open flames until you are sure there are no natural gas or propane leaks. You may need a gas company service technician to confirm that it's safe.