Understanding Evacuation – Know Your Zone


Plan | Stay Safe • Floods | Hurricanes

When preparing for a disaster, ask yourself: “Where will I be safe?” Is it a room in your home? Is it a nearby school or other commercial building? Is it a family member’s or friend’s home outside of the disaster zone? Once you answer this question and discuss it with your family, you will have a shelter plan that increases survival, reduces stress, and enhances comfort.

Plan for Evacuation

The best ways to plan for evacuation vary based on the type of disaster and whether it is safe to shelter in your home. Local officials declare when a mandatory evacuation will occur, and sometimes they may suggest, but not require, evacuations.

Prepare to evacuate

  • Determine alternate routes and several modes of transportation out of your area.
  • Review at least two exit routes from your home or neighborhood to the designated meeting place for your family.
  • Identify several places — in different directions from your home — to go in an emergency or during an evacuation.
  • If you have a car, keep it in good working condition with a full gas tank and a portable disaster supply kit.
  • Evacuate in one car per family to reduce congestion and delay.
  • If you do not have a car, make transportation arrangements with family, friends, or your local government in case you must evacuate.
  • Develop a household plan to maintain contact and reunite if separated.
  • Don't forget about your pets. If you cannot take them with you, identify a place that will accept pets, as most public shelters allow only service animals.
  • Pack your bags. After a disaster, you may not be able to return to your home for some time. Make sure to bring your disaster supply kit, including essential documents and valuables.

Decide when and how to evacuate

  • Evacuate if government officials instruct you to do so.
  • Determine how you will evacuate. Evacuation may be on foot, depending on the type of disaster.
  • Always prioritize evacuation routes identified by authorities.

For a flood

  • If you’re told to evacuate due to flooding, do so immediately.
  • Drive only on roadways that are not flooded. Six inches of moving water can knock you over, and one foot of moving water can sweep your vehicle away.

For a hurricane

  • Prepare to leave if your home is not built to withstand a hurricane.
  • Prepare to leave if you live in a storm surge evacuation zone.
  • Find your evacuation zone and determine your route before a storm comes.
  • Evacuate promptly according to your evacuation zone and follow the evacuation route(s).
  • Evacuate immediately as you may not be able to evacuate if you delay too long.
  • Identify a safe location to shelter after evacuation before a hurricane threatens.

For a tsunami

  • If you are in a tsunami area, protect yourself from the earthquake first.
  • Move to a safe place as high and as far inland as possible after the shaking ends if there are signs of a tsunami — like a quickly rising flood, a wall of water, sudden draining, a roar, or a warning siren.
  • Crawl if you can reach better cover, but do not go through an area with more debris.

For a wildfire

  • Know your community’s evacuation plans.
  • Identify several potential exit routes and follow the evacuation routes.
  • Evacuate if you’re told to do so. Wildfires may result in extremely hazardous driving conditions, making it difficult or impossible to escape.
  • Use N95 masks to avoid breathing harmful particles.

Evacuating when there’s extra time

  • Unplug electrical equipment, but do not unplug freezers and refrigerators unless there is a risk of flooding.
  • Shut off water, gas, and electricity if your home is damaged or officials advise.
  • Close and lock all doors and windows.
  • Share evacuation plans with your out-of-state contact in your family disaster plan.
  • Wear sturdy, protective shoes and clothing, such as long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and a hat.
  • Check on others who may need transportation.
  • Take actions depending on your location, the predictions for weather conditions, and guidance from local authorities.
  • Take your pets with you, but know that most public shelters may only permit service animals. Plan ahead how to care for your pets.
  • Be on the lookout for road hazards, and do not drive into flooded areas.

Plan to Find Shelter

Sheltering in place

Depending on the circumstances, you may need to stay in your current location by sheltering in place.

When deciding where to shelter, identify the safest place in the building based on the peril you’re facing. You may only need to shelter for a short time, such as during a tornado warning, or for a long time, such as during a winter storm.

  • Stay in your shelter until authorities say it’s safe to leave.
  • Take turns listening to radio broadcasts and maintain a 24-hour safety watch.
  • During extended periods of sheltering, manage water and food supplies to ensure you and your family have the supplies and quantities you need.

During a tornado

  • Take shelter in a safe room or certified shelter. If neither is available, take refuge in a basement or the lowest level interior room away from corners, windows, doors, and outside walls.
  • Go to the lowest floor that won’t flood if flooding is possible.

During a flood

During an earthquake

During a tsunami

During a winter storm

  • Locate an indoor heated space to shelter in.
  • Plan for a potential power outage by locating your nearest shelter.
  • Follow safety precautions like monitoring carbon monoxide levels. See safety during a winter storm for more information.

During an extreme heat event

  • Take shelter in an indoor, air-conditioned space.
  • Plan for a potential power outage by locating your nearest shelter.
  • Follow safety precautions like monitoring carbon monoxide levels.

During a hail storm

  • Stay indoors until the storm has passed, and stay away from skylights, windows, and doors. Don’t go outside to protect your property.

During lightning

  • If thunder roars, go indoors! Once inside, avoid doors and windows.
  • If you are outdoors, avoid water, high ground, open spaces, and metal objects.
  • Shelter in a large building or vehicle with closed windows. Do not lean on the doors.
  • If you cannot get indoors, crouch down with your feet together and place your hands over your ears to minimize hearing damage from the thunder. Stay at least 15 feet away from other people. See safety during lightning for more safety tips during lightning.

Evacuating to a public disaster shelter

  • Take your disaster supply kit with the supplies you need.
  • Cooperate with shelter officials, and remember that alcoholic beverages and weapons are prohibited.

Install a Safe Room or Storm Shelter

The best safety protection in high winds and tornadoes is a safe room or storm shelter. A safe room that meets FEMA P-320 or FEMA P-361 guidance or a storm shelter that meets the ICC 500 standard provides near-absolute life safety protection.

Evacuation and Shelter for People with Disabilities

As one of the more vulnerable groups, people with disabilities need special consideration before disaster strikes. If you, your family, friends, or neighbors have access or functional needs, planning now will enhance safety and comfort when it matters the most.

Drugstores, medical facilities and accessible shelters may not be operational or reachable during disasters, so take steps to ensure you have necessary supplies and accommodations.

For all people with disabilities

  • Establish a personal support network of family, friends, and neighbors who can help during an emergency and get you to a safe place. Maintain a contact list in your disaster kit, and make sure your network knows where you store your emergency supplies. Share a key to your home with someone in your network.
  • Maintain a supply of all the items that you will need for 3–5 days. First responders and emergency personnel may not be able to reach you immediately after a disaster.
  • Use the Considerations for People with Disabilities During a Power Outage checklist to ensure you have the things you need in the event of a power outage.
  • Stock up on extra prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines, and medical supplies. If you have allergies or other chemical or environmental sensitivities, keep cleaning supplies, masks, and other necessary items on hand.
  • Consult with your doctors and assistance organizations to develop a backup plan so you have uninterrupted services.
  • Keep extra wheelchair batteries, oxygen, catheters, medication, food for guide or hearing-ear dogs, etc.
  • Maintain a current list of the type and serial numbers of all medical devices.
  • Clearly label your assistive devices with your name and contact information.
  • Install specialty fire safety devices in the home, such as fire extinguishers and smoke alarms with a vibrating pad or flashing light. Consider installing a strobe light alarm outside of your home to alert neighbors. Test alarms and extinguishers regularly. Replace smoke alarm batteries every six months.
  • If you live in an apartment building, ask the management to mark all available, accessible exits.
  • Keep a flashlight, whistle or bell handy to signal your location to others.

For those with a communication disability

  • Include documentation of your contact information and preferred method of communication in your emergency kit.
  • If you use assistive technologies, plan how you will evacuate with the devices or replace equipment if lost or destroyed. Be sure to save your model and device information.

For those who are deaf or hard of hearing

  • Obtain extra batteries and a spare charger for hearing aids, cochlear implants and other personal assistive listening devices. Create a record of where you got your hearing aids and the batteries they need.
  • If you cannot use a TV, radio or computer, plan for how to receive emergency information.
  • Secure and use a specialty NOAA Weather Radio for Deaf and Hard of Hearing with an adaptive weather alert system.
  • Determine if your mobile phone includes alerting capabilities that signal an emergency using lights and vibrations.
  • Keep an analog amplified or captioned telephone in your emergency supply kit.

For those with a mobility disability

  • If you use a power wheelchair, store a lightweight manual wheelchair for backup. Know your wheelchair’s weight and size, and if it is collapsible. If your wheelchair or scooter tires are not puncture-proof, keep a patch kit or sealant and an extra inner tube for flat tires.
  • Show others how to operate your wheelchair.
  • Purchase an extra battery for a power wheelchair or other battery-operated medical or assistive technology devices. Keep extra batteries on a trickle charger at all times. Note that agencies, service organizations or local charitable groups may be able to help you purchase a spare battery.
  • Keep an extra mobility device such as a cane or walker. If you use a seat cushion, take it with you if you evacuate. Have an escape chair if you live or work in a high-rise building.

For those with a visual disability

  • Have a talking, Braille or large-print timepiece with extra batteries. Keep model and background information for any assistive technology devices you use (white canes, CCTV, text-to-speech software, etc.).
  • Have a backup plan to communicate. Consider using laminated cards with phrases, pictures or pictograms. Keep Braille/text communication cards for two-way communication.

Evacuation for people with disabilities

  • Identify accessible transportation methods for evacuation or getting to a medical clinic. Work with local services, public transportation or paratransit to identify all options.
  • Plan how you will contact emergency personnel/first responders regarding your evacuation needs.
  • Contact your local emergency management agency and register for lists that identify people with access and functional needs that require evacuation assistance.
  • Always carry emergency health information and emergency contacts. Wear a medical alert tag or bracelet. Store important information on a flash drive or mobile device. Make hard copies for easy transport in the event of an evacuation. Have your medical professionals update your medical plan every time they make changes in your treatment or care.
  • If you need life-sustaining treatment, such as dialysis, identify more than one potential facility.
  • Medical shelters are only appropriate for those with acute health care needs who would otherwise be hospitalized. Contact your emergency management office to assess how local shelters can provide for those with access and functional needs.

Plan for children with disabilities

  • Make plans for children with access and functional needs and others who may have challenges in unfamiliar or chaotic environments (e.g., those with PTSD).
  • Consider handheld electronic devices with movies and games (with extra batteries or chargers and headphones), sheets and twine or a small pop-up tent, and snacks and toys.

Plan for financial stability

  • If you receive Social Security or other regular benefits, consider switching to electronic payments as disasters can interrupt mail service for days or weeks. Your options may include a direct deposit to your bank account or the Direct Express® prepaid debit card. Get more information on going paperless with your benefits.

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