Emergency Preparedness: 5-Minute Evacuation Plan

Okay, now that we know we can get out of the house when there is an immediate threat to our safety, let’s work on the next tier: The 5-Minute Evacuation Plan. (Warning: This is a very long, but very important post!) 🙂

The 5-minute Evacuation Plan is for when we need to exit our homes (and likely the city as well) quickly. Time is of the essence and the threat to safety is imminent, but not immediate, so there is time to grab a few important items before you have to leave. Example situations could include the threat of disaster flooding, a nuclear accident or attack in a nearby area (assuming you are instructed to evacuate vs. shelter in place), a tsunami warning, or other such scenarios. And while the 5-second plan is something we need to have committed to memory (let’s be real… if you’re looking around your house for your fire evacuation plan while your house is on fire… you’re gonna have issues), the 5-minute plan is one that will better serve you if it is written down for you to reference when you’re in the panic of the moment.

To make our 5-Minute Evacuation Plan, we’re going to consider several things:

  1. What are the most important things we need to take with us?
  2. How are we going to exit the city?
  3. Where are we going to go?
  4. What do we do if we’re not all together at the time of emergency?

Part 1: Take Only The Most Important Things With You
You do not have time to be saving your whole house, so take only the things that are the very most important. A lot of this decision is a personal matter, but here are some things you should definitely have:

  • 72-hour kits
  • First-aid kits
  • Change of clothing for each family member (we keep a separate 72-hour clothing bag next to our 72-hour kits so it’s just ready to grab)
  • Blanket and pillow for each family member
  • Cell phones (plus chargers) and wallet/purse (with money, credit cards, check book, etc.)
  • Important papers, including: your driver’s license or other personal identification; social security card; proof of residence (deed or lease); insurance policies (home, auto, and health); birth and marriage certificates; stocks, bonds, and other negotiable certificates; wills, deeds, and copies of recent tax returns. (These should all be located together in one place so you’re not hunting around for different papers. Also, I like to keep copies of them in my 72-hour kits.)

Other optional items to consider might be: family photo albums, things to keep little children entertained, extra water, extra gas (we keep several extra gas cans full in our garage at all times so we don’t have to stop for gas on the way out).

Create a checklist to use during the actual event of an emergency evacuation. Have your list prioritized so that the most important things are listed first. You can even go so far as to designate certain responsibilities to certain family members (obviously only to the ones old enough to handle the responsibility) and have that written out on the list. Then place this list in an easy to grab location. Ours is taped up inside a kitchen cabinet that’s right next to the main hallway. Easiest spot to grab it and start checking off items as we go. I’ll share my list with you next week for some inspiration. 😉

Part 2: Determine Your Exit Routes
Looking at a map of your city, what are the main ways in which you can leave from your home/neighborhood? Plan at least two exit routes for going north, south, east, and west. One of these routes can be a main access road. However for additional routes try to avoid roads that may have bridges out of commission, may be highly congested with traffic, or may be impassible or otherwise difficult to travel on during an emergency situation.
Use a highlighter to mark your routes (it may help to use different colors for different directions or for your primary vs. secondary routes). Keep a copy of this map in each of your family’s vehicles at all times. It would also be wise to keep a state map in each vehicle as well (even if you have a GPS system! :))
(Side note: if possible only use one car when evacuating. This helps reduce the amount of traffic on the road and will prevent the family from being separated. Also, in the actual event of an evacuation, be sure to stay tuned to the emergency radio news stations for any important information you need to know.)

Part 3: Determine A Destination
Deciding ahead of time where you are going to go in an emergency goes a long way in minimizing confusion (as you will especially see when we get to Part 4). Do you have relatives that live nearby? (Well, close enough to drive to but not so close as to be affected by the same disaster you’re leaving?) A favorite city you like to visit? Perhaps one you’ve always wanted to visit? Look at your map again and pick 4 destinations for each direction you may end up leaving by (North, East, South, West).
If you have relatives/friends you plan to use as a destination, give them a call and let them know that they are now a part of your evacuation plan (of course, asking permission first wouldn’t hurt either! :)) If your destination is a city, choose a hotel/motel within that city. (You may want a backup hotel/motel as well since these have a tendency to fill up quickly when there’s a nearby emergency.) Whatever your destination, write down the address, phone number, and directions for how to get there. (A bonus to having the hotel phone number written down is that you can call ahead to make a reservation so there is already a spot saved for you when you arrive.) Keep a copy of this in each of your family’s vehicles.

Part 4: What To Do If The Family Is Not Together At The Time Of Emergency
Honestly, the likelihood of an emergency happening when the whole family is together is rather small. Whether it’s the kids being at school, hubby being at work, kids at friends houses, etc., unless it’s the middle of the night, it’s not often the entire family is all at home. So we definitely need a contingency plan for if the family is apart.
It is impossible to predict every situation of where everyone could be at any given time of an emergency, but if you follow these suggestions, you can generally be prepared for most situations:

  • Have an Out-of-Area Contact. Often in an emergency, local lines  will not be operating (meaning you cannot call within or into a disaster area), however you can often call out of a disaster area. So even though you could not call your neighbor, you could still call your mom who lives two states over. Sounds strange, but they purposefully limit local calling in an emergency… I believe it is to prevent overloading the circuits and allow emergency personnel the needed lines. SO, establish a out-of-area person to be your family’s contact. In an emergency, each family member can ‘check in’ with that contact person to say how and where they are and what their plans are. The contact can then relay any important information from any other family members.  (Important Note: Be sure your contact person knows that they are in fact your contact person! Also be sure they have voice mail or an answering machine.)
  • If possible, gather your family together. Know your child’s school’s emergency plan. Can you come get your child in an emergency or do they lock down? Where does hubby work? Is it towards the kid’s school or away from it? Where do you work? (And yes, even if you are at home, you work! You just don’t get paid. ;)) Given all these locations, choose a place where you will all meet. It may be more practical to meet away from home, especially if ‘home’ is not accessible for any given reason, or if daddy’s work is on the way out of town. (Note that if you are meeting away from home, any person that is initially at home will be responsible for gathering all the needed items there to evacuate.) Don’t forget to use your contact person to help determine if anyone will have a hard time making it to the meeting location!
  • If you cannot meet together initially, determine to meet up at your destination (the one from Part 3). See? I told you that would come in handy. 😉 If you are somehow blocked from getting to your family in an emergency, but you know where everyone is headed and you have verified with the contact person that this is still the family’s plan, and you have the address, phone number, and directions for the destination (as it should be in each family car), then away you go. (However, please note that parents should not leave until they are sure all family members are accounted for and no one is being left behind. You can do this through your contact person if local calls are not available. Make sure ALL family members have checked in. You don’t want to leave town and then discover one of the kids got left at school because the other parent could not pick them up! Oh horrors of horrors!) Just remember to keep in touch with your contact person for any updates or plan changes and the family should be able to all meet together at the journey’s end. *sigh*. At last. Emergency averted. Time to rest. 🙂

Ah, but wait. There’s still one more thing we need to do. Now we need to write this all down and rehearse it with our families. Our job is never done. 😉 I will work on mine this week as well and will post it next week as an example in case there are still any questions. Yes, this is a BIG one. But stay strong! Break it down into parts, if needed. Again, emergency preparedness is one of the first things you should tackle because an emergency is one of the most difficult things to handle if you are not prepared. So keep it up and good luck my friends!

Resources and Other Good Information:
http://www.nationalterroralert.com/evacuation-plan/
http://gohsep.la.gov/factsheets/yourevacuationplan.htm
http://www.fema.gov/plan/prepare/evacuation.shtm

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