How to Prepare for an Emergency Evacuation

Stress runs high when you’re experiencing a crisis. Even though the general advice is to wait at least six months before making a significant decision after a disaster, there are times when you need to make major moves before then. You might even be forced into an emergency evacuation. While these situations are unlikely in some areas, do you have a home evacuation plan just in case?

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 disturbing in these moments is not knowing the outcome or if there will even be a home left when you return. Before crisis strikes, get familiar with this emergency evacuation checklist to ease some of your worries.

Doing some advanced prep work will help you keep track of the essential things and can help you cope with leaving behind the majority of your belongings. Before, during, and after an emergency, remember the following advice.
Before the Crisis Prepare your home for common emergencies.
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 what types of disasters might impact you. Are you in a flood zone? Are earthquakes common? Every crisis has specific home preparation guidelines. There are a few things you can consider when protecting your home.
Things you can 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. Maintain your roof and get it replaced every 10-20 years as needed. Create a home evacuation plan for scenarios like fires and hurricanes. Practice your car routes and house escapes on a regular basis. This is especially important if you have children. Learn how to access an emergency alert system.
Staying informed is one of the most important parts of riding out an emergency evacuation. 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.
Keep copies of important papers stored together.
Start preparing your home evacuation plan. The most important thing to have on your person at all times is proof of identification and other essential papers. If you need medical assistance, having 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 A written summary of any medical conditions you have Deed to your home Social security cards Health, car and homeowners insurance documents 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.
Checklist of essential items: First aid kit Medications (prescription and over the counter) Medical supplies 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 When the Crisis Hits If there is no time, evacuate immediately.
Some disasters give residents a little warning to do some of the following steps. If there is a forest fire or hurricane slowly approaching, you can take some extra precautions. However, if your home is on fire, you will need to move as quickly as possible and not attempt to grab any of the following items. Follow a home fire escape plan, and once you are out of the house, call 911.
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 step 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 floodwater. Move these to a higher floor and 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.
Pack essential items in an orderly fashion.
It’s hard to know what to take during an emergency evacuation. Keep things simple and gather only what’s needed. These items can be quickly grabbed when you have a little extra time, which is often the case during hurricane season. However, if there is a fire in the house, skip this step and go straight to your home fire escape plan.
Common emergency grab and go items: 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 irreplaceable, like your wedding rings or old family photos only if there is time and space. Make sure you have necessities for your pets. Leashes Food & water for three days Medications ID collars and updated microchip information Forget about inconsequential things.
Every emergency evacuation situation is different and has different time constraints and circumstances. However, 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 or dry skin, leave it behind. Spending time gathering beauty products during an emergency 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. Listen to what government officials tell you.
Remember, whenever officials require an evacuation, it’s crucial 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 helps the rescue efforts be more efficient and lifesaving.
After the Crisis Get your life back on track.
An unexpected disaster can have long-lasting impacts emotionally and financially. The following recommendations may lessen the financial blow after an emergency evacuation:
Reach out to your insurance company as soon as possible to see what’s covered. Research other places that you might be able to receive aid or temporary housing. Cut back on your expenses. Cancel your cable, stop eating out, and quit spending any money that you can. Contact your mortgage company if you own your home to see if you can make a forbearance agreement. “A forbearance agreement enables you to pay nothing on your mortgage or to make a partial payment for a set period,” advise the writers at Next Avenue. “The difference is made up in the future when you can resume regular mortgage payments.” If you are renting your home, consider a less expensive place so you can save your money. Getting a roommate or moving in with a friend temporarily are also options.
For more information on emergency evacuations and preparedness, visit

This article originally appeared on the Life Storage Blog in December 2017 and was updated to include new information.