If you live along the Gulf of Mexico or eastern seaboard, at some point you’ll likely be faced with having to evacuate your family due to an approaching storm. Having an evacuation plan in advance can make the process much easier.
Sometimes, heading inland to a safer destination for a few days is a voluntary decision. However, emergency management officials may issue mandatory (required) evacuation orders, and you should heed them immediately. Emergency services may be suspended during a mandatory evacuation; if you decide not to leave and shelter in place, your safety is your responsibility.
Plan Now—Before Storms Hit
- Identify which evacuation zone you are in. Low-lying areas along the coast are susceptible to storm surge—wind-aided flooding that causes significant property damage and loss of life. These areas are divided into zones, which makes it easier for officials to order evacuations and issue instructions during emergencies. If you hear your zone mentioned on the news, pay attention! Evacuation zone maps are available on your city or county’s emergency management website.
- Establish a destination (or two). Reserve a hotel room or make arrangements to stay with friends or family further inland, far away from the storm’s worst impacts. Storm paths and driving conditions can change quickly, so have multiple destinations available. You can also check FEMA’s app for a list of area storm shelter locations.
- Know your evacuation routes. Check city and county emergency information websites for the recommended roads out of town. If possible, drive the route in advance. Sometimes officials will temporarily reverse the direction of lanes on major highways, allowing more traffic to move out of the city (also known as contraflow). Keep a printed map or list of directions in the car for easy reference, since local cell phone, GPS and data networks may be jammed.
- Plan alternate routes. Traffic congestion, road construction and flooded or debris-strewn roads may slow your progress. Give yourself as many options as possible to improve your odds of making it to safety.
- Establish a communication plan. Let family members and friends know of your travel plans. If your family is split up or you are not allowed back into your neighborhood after the storm, designate a meeting place to reconnect and make sure everyone’s OK.
- Gas up before you leave. Expect long lines or fuel outages at gas stations along the way as other drivers also top off their tanks. Some stations may be closed as they make their own storm preparations. Slow driving or idling due to traffic congestion can increase the amount of fuel you use. If you start running low on gas, most online maps and driving apps can provide directions, pricing and availability for nearby fueling stations.
- Keep your car maintained. Calling a tow truck or trying to find an open garage in the middle of an evacuation only adds to the stress. Get that oil change or brake job taken care of now and you can drive worry-free. Now is also a good time to make sure you’re comfortable changing a flat tire, and be sure to have some basic car repair tools in the trunk (car emergency kits are widely available online and at most department and auto parts stores).
- Leave early and beat the rush. Be ready to go at a moment’s notice. Hurricane routes get congested quickly as everyone hits the road at once. Expect traffic delays and allow plenty of time to get to your destination. The longer you wait to leave, the worse the traffic will be.
What to Pack
- Your emergency bug-out bag. It should always be ready to go and Include preparedness essentials such as: flashlight, batteries, first aid kit, non-perishable food and snacks, cash, medications, basic toiletries and a couple of changes of clothes. During a pandemic, it’s a good idea to pack masks or face coverings, hand sanitizer and some extra cleaning supplies.
- Documents and other important information. Also, be sure and take identification, a list of emergency contacts, birth and marriage certificates, insurance policies, bank/credit card information and copies of prescriptions should you need to refill them out-of-town. Be sure to grab important electronics like computers and flash drives, and irreplaceable or expensive jewelry. It’s also a good idea to take an extra set of car and house keys.
- Supplies for the pets. Four-legged friends can be a tremendous source of comfort during a stressful time. Pack basic needs like food, water bowl, toys, leashes and medicine. You’ll also want to reward them with their favorite treats after a long day in the car. Make sure the hotel, family or friend you’ve chosen to stay with allows pets. Many storm shelters only accept service animals.
- Phone, laptop, charger, extra battery or USB power supply. Set up weather, news, maps, first aid and other helpful apps and websites before you leave. Bookmark local emergency, news and weather websites for fast reference on the road. Registering or verifying accounts and passwords is much easier to do at home than while on the road in a stressful situation. Remember that cell phone and data connections are often slower and less reliable the further you get away from town.
- Patience and a good attitude. Hurricane evacuations are stressful, and the situation can change by the minute. If you’re prepared, flexible and know what to expect, you can turn your evacuation into a great bonding experience for your entire family.
Have a Plan for Potable Water
Make sure you have a source of clean water available at all times—not only when evacuating, but also while dealing with the storm’s aftermath when you return home. Berkey® water purification systems are an essential for hurricane preparations. They are portable, easy to use and require no tools or plumbing. For more information, read our article “Hurricane Preparedness: A Plan for Potable Water”.
For More Information
Having a comprehensive hurricane plan will help you and your family decide what to do in the event of a hurricane. As you prepare your plan, tailor your plans and supplies to your specific daily living needs and responsibilities.
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