Two: Evacuate

Two: Evacuate

Sometimes, you just have to get outta town.

A train derailment and fuel fire.

A natural gas line break.

A hazardous materials release.

A rapidly moving wildfire.

A 9.0 mega earthquake.

According to FEMA, evacuations are more common than many people realize.

Fires and floods cause evacuations most frequently across the U.S. and almost every year, people along coastlines evacuate as hurricanes approach. In addition, hundreds of times a year, transportation and industrial accidents release harmful substances, forcing many people to leave their homes.

It is vital to check your community’s emergency management website, as different towns face different hazards. Knowing what to prepare for is the first step in making a plan that works.

If you live on the coast, tsunamis, landslides, fires, and storms are the main concern.

If you live on the I-5 corridor, citywide evacuations are less likely, but possible in the event of the Big One, and certain neighborhoods might be evacuated for more localized concerns, like a gas main break.

Wildfires can generate evacuation orders in the Cascades and East of the Cascades.

Most cities, counties, and the state have “hazard mitigation plans” or emergency plans. they will have a lot of information you can use to prepare for an evacuation order.

Mandatory vs. Voluntary Evacuations

In some circumstances, local officials decide that the hazards are serious and require mandatory evacuations. In others, evacuations are advised or households decide to evacuate to avoid situations they believe are potentially dangerous.

When community evacuations become necessary, local officials provide information to the public through the media. In some circumstances, other warning methods, such as sirens, text alerts, emails or telephone calls are used. Search online to find your town’s emergency alert program and make sure you and your family members are signed up.

The terms “Voluntary” and “Mandatory” are used to describe evacuation orders. However, local jurisdictions may use other terminology such as “Precautionary” and “Immediate Threat.”

These terms are used to alert you to the significance of the danger.

All evacuation instructions provided by officials should be followed immediately for your safety.

If an evacuation order is voluntary, it means that emergency management professionals and civic officials feel the safest thing to do is leave.

If an evacuation order is mandatory, police, fire, and rescue officials will be going door to door to check on your safety and make sure you evacuate. Don’t delay, these orders are not made lightly and mean that civic officials have determined that your safety is at risk.

The best way to protect your family and help emergency responders when a mandatory evacuation order is issued is to evacuate!

The amount of time you have to leave will depend on the hazard.

If the event is a weather condition, such as a major storm, you might have a day or two to get ready. However, many disasters allow no time to gather even the most basic necessities, which is why planning ahead is essential.

When a mandatory evacuation order is given, grab your Go Bag, pack up your family and pets and their Go Bags, and leave.

The more time you have, the less stressed you’ll be, so make a part of your emergency planning process how long you’ll wait to relocate. Do you need to hear from your loved ones first? What if communication lines are down? Are you willing to wait until an evacuation order is mandatory or are you prepared to leave once a voluntary order is given?

Remember, if an actual evacuation order of any kind is issued, others will be leaving too, which could clog roads, and affect your ability to leave. If you have pets, where you can go for shelter, and how frequently you need to stop for bathroom breaks must be taken into account.

Know Before You Go – Evacuation Planning is Essential

Plan how you will assemble your family and supplies and anticipate where you will go for different situations.

Plan out who in your household has what tasks in an evacuation.

  • Does one person pack the car while another grabs the pets/kids?
  • If utilities need to be turned off or appliances unplugged, who is responsible for this?
  • Does your emergency kit have an evacuation checklist? Who makes sure tasks are completed?

Choose several destinations in different directions so you have options in an emergency and know the evacuation routes to get to those destinations. Practice evacuating and vary your route when you drill so you are familiar and ready if a disaster happens.

Have a bike rack? If you can pack bikes, it’s a great idea to do so for transportation if roads are clogged or impassable.

If time allows:

  • Call or email the out-of-state contact in your family communications plan. Tell them where you are going.
  • Secure your home by closing and locking doors and windows.
  • Unplug electrical equipment such as radios, televisions and small appliances. Leave freezers and refrigerators plugged in unless there is a risk of flooding. If there is damage to your home and you are instructed to do so, shut off water, gas and electricity before leaving.
  • Leave a note telling others when you left and where you are going.
  • Wear sturdy shoes and clothing that provides some protection such as long pants, long-sleeved shirts and a cap.
  • Check with neighbors who may need a ride.


Cal Fire’s Prepare For Wildfire site has excellent tips for pre-evacuation preparation in Wildfire Country.