Why ‘be prepared’ is the best motto during an evacuation

Evacuation orders are only made in extreme circumstances. Find out why ‘be prepared’ is the best motto during an evacuation.

There’s no need to panic if you receive orders to evacuate, but it’s important to take the situation seriously. And it will help tremendously if you’ve already thought through possible scenarios and have an emergency plan in place.

It’s a good idea to go through the exercise of creating an emergency evacuation plan, even if you think there is a low likelihood of anything happening in your area. Here are a few tips on how to prepare in advance for an evacuation.

Why an evacuation order might be made

Evacuations happen for a number of reasons–wildfires that are out of control and burning close to homes, destructive hurricanes, severe storms, floods, and earthquakes are some of the more common types of natural disasters that could trigger an evacuation order. In some parts of the world, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions can play a role, as well.

There may also be a time when you aren’t ordered to evacuate but feel unsafe–in this case, you may choose to leave where you are, and it will be important to let people know where you’re going, how to reach you, and when you think you might return.

Being ready keeps you safe

Needless to say, evacuations can be stressful, but you can help the process go more smoothly by preparing ahead of time and discussing your action plan with your family in advance. Here are some steps to take in advance that will go a long way if an evacuation order is made:

  • Familiarize yourself with possible risks: Some areas are more prone to certain types of natural disasters than others. Find out if where you live or are visiting is known for any such events and research established evacuation routes. 
  • Put together a plan: Discuss your evacuation plan with everyone in the house so they know what to do if circumstances change. Revisit the plan from time to time to make sure it still makes sense and doesn’t need to be updated. Include what to do about any family pets and designate a contact person out of the area that everyone can contact should your family become separated. Additionally, it’s always a good idea to have regular conversations with household members so everyone remembers what to do in the event of a disaster.
  • Designate an emergency meeting place: Establish a spot outside of the house or neighborhood where everyone should meet in case you can’t return home right away.
  • Pack a go-bag: Gather essential items you will need if you have to leave your home unexpectedly. The items will vary depending on the people in the house, but you should think about bringing prescription medications, copies of important documents (e.g. passports, birth certificates, insurance information), cash, a change of clothes, toiletries, nonperishable food and potable water. Pack lightly but be prepared to be away from your home for a while just in case. If you have room in your bag, throw in a few photos or sentimental items. 
  • Stay in the loop: Watch the news for weather and crisis updates.

Evacuating your home is a personal choice, but keep in mind that those who don’t follow an evacuation order might be putting themselves and others at further risk. If the situation worsens, those who stay behind may become injured, trapped, or otherwise unable to escape; emergency personnel may not even be able to reach them in this case. 

What happens once you leave?

If you have been ordered to evacuate, there are usually local organizations and agencies that rush to the scene of a disaster to help provide food, shelter, and medical care. For larger evacuations, the Canadian Red Cross, catastrophe response teams, and other disaster relief organizations get involved, as well. 

Take comfort from the fact that you were prepared and helped make a difficult situation easier for everyone involved as the situation unfolds. Keep in touch with family members and friends so they know you are safe and not to worry about you.