We never want to think the worst could happen where we’re forced to leave our homes and belongings at a moment’s notice. What’s especially agonizing in these moments is not knowing the outcome or if there will even be a home left when you return. Before crisis strikes, it’s essential to create an emergency evacuation checklist for your family.
In fact, wildfires, hurricanes, and other natural disasters aren’t the only reason for emergency evacuations. There are dozens of other circumstances that require you to move and move quickly.
Doing some advanced prep work will ensure you have the best chance of maintaining the important things. Making a list ahead of time will also help you cope with leaving behind the things that won’t matter in the long run. Before, during and after an emergency, remember the following advice.
1. Keep copies of important papers stored together.
Every home evacuation plan will tell you that one of the most important things to have on your person at all times is proof of identification and other important papers. In the event you need medical assistance, knowing who you are and your basic medical history will help get you the care you need and inform your loved ones promptly.
Have a waterproof document holder on hand to keep your most vital documents together.
Checklist of important papers:
- Passports and driver’s licenses
- Medical history including any drug allergies
- Deed to your home
- Social security cards
- Health, car and homeowners insurance documents
2. Create an emergency preparedness kit.
Figuring out what to take when evacuating your home is not something you want to ruminate over in the heat of the moment. Take some time during a stress-free moment to put together an emergency preparedness kit.
Designate one or two airtight, clear plastic totes to hold the contents of your emergency kit and label as such. That way in the event of an emergency, you can grab the kit and go, knowing all the essentials are at hand.
If keeping food stored in your kit, make sure you keep the containers in a cool, dry place. Also, revisit your kit each year to check for expired products and update the inventory depending on your needs as a family.
Essential items for your kit:
- First aid kit
- Enough non-perishable food for three days
- Three gallons of water per person
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Backup cell phone battery and chargers
- Wet wipes and plastic bags
- A hand crank radio
- A face mask in the event of poor air quality
Other items to consider packing:
- Credit cards and cash
- Essential prescription and non-prescription medications
- Hygiene products like toothpaste, mouthwash, tampons, etc.
- Infant formula, diapers, wipes, and bottles
- A small tub of bleach and a dropper for safe drinking water.
- A change of clothing and comfortable shoes
- Paper products like plates, napkins, and utensils
- Sleeping bags and blankets
- Keys to your home, car, offsite storage, etc.
- Your pets along with a travel tote if necessary
- A small assortment of sentimental items that are irreplacable, like your wedding rings or old family photos only if there is time and space.
Checklist for pets:
- Food & water for three days
- ID collars and updated microchip information
3. Protect your home in case of emergency.
Maintaining your home not only improves your curb appeal, but it keeps everything in order in the event an emergency strikes. Learn about the area you live in so you know exactly what types of disasters might impact you. Are you in a flood zone? Are earthquakes common? Every diasaster has certain home preparation guidelines. Here are a few things to make sure you consider when protecting your home.
Things to do in advance:
- Install hurricane shutters and hurricane grade windows.
- Keep sandbags on hand if you live in a flood zone.
- Always remove dead or diseased trees from your property.
Home checklist for during an emergency:
- In flooding situations, move valuables to the second or third floors. Make sure electronics and expensive furniture are off the ground.
- Turn off your utilities temporarily. This will help prevent additional flooding from pipes breaking or fires from gas leaks or electrical issues. When returning home, make sure there are no gas leaks before lighting candles or exposing the air to an open flame.
- Move household chemicals out of harm’s way. If there’s time, do a quick scan of any chemicals like ammonia or bleach that might contaminate flood water. Move these to a higher floor and/or make sure the lids are tightened.
- Store away any large items from the yard. Anything that can be swept away by the wind and cause harm should be kept inside the house or garage.
- Make sure all windows and doors are locked. For high winds, adhere plywood to windows if you don’t have hurricane shutters in place.
4. Know how to access an emergency alert system.
Staying informed is one of the most important parts of riding out an emergency situation. Learn about how your area broadcasts updates for disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes, and fires.
Most cell phone services have a Wireless Emergency Alert system that is free of charge and will send notices to your phone automatically. However, this isn’t a guarantee, especially if you have an older flip phone or a plan with a smaller, lesser known company.
Call your cell phone provider to confirm you will receive these updates in case of an emergency. Make sure you have means to keep your cell phone charged for a few days so you can check in. Also, get a hand-crank radio for a backup alternative.
5. Forget about the inconsequential things.
While every emergency situation is different and has different time constraints and circumstances, there are some things you shouldn’t worry about, as tempting as it might be at the time. Stressing out about trying to fit every last thing in your bag before you leave will cause you more anxiety than its worth. Remember, the most important thing is your safety, so keep that at the forefront of your mind at all times. Consider leaving behind these items to lighten the load.
Items you can leave behind:
- Your entire wardrobe. Pack as lightly as possible when it comes to clothing. Make sure you have a jacket and layers if it’s a cold season.
- Expensive televisions and electronics. While you may want to bring a laptop with you or a tablet, resist the urge to cram all your electronics into the car just because they were expensive. These items can be replaced.
- Cosmetics and other vanity items. Unless you need that skin cream due to extremely sensitive, dry skin, leave it behind. Though it’s nice to have the conveniences of home during an emergency, spending time gathering all your beauty products during an evacuation could be a mistake when your time is limited. Once you’re in a safe place, you can repurchase vanity items at any local drug store.
Remember, whenever officials require an evacuation, it’s important to move swiftly when they tell you. Often, areas will be evacuated in stages to help with traffic flow, so you don’t want to leave early or lag behind during these times. Cooperating with leaders only helps the rescue efforts be more efficient and lifesaving.
For more information on emergency preparedness, visit FEMA.gov.
This article was originally published in 2013 and updated in December of 2017.