What to do during a mandatory evacuation

Mon Jul 27 2020

A couple returns to an area devastated by wildfire after a mandatory evacuation

Preparation is everything when safely evacuating your home. Before you leave, get your house ready for the impending danger if you are safely able to. (If there’s a wildfire, get out as soon as possible.)

This may mean:

  • Turning off the gas, water, and electric to prevent more damage if something catches fire or a pipe bursts.

  • Boarding up your doors and windows. 

  • Clearing the yard of debris and storing or tying down patio furniture and garbage can.

  • Sandbagging entryways.

You also want to plan ahead so you know where you’re going, such as a:

  • Friend’s house in another town.

  • Hotel.

  • Local shelter set up by the authorities.

Next, think about how you and your family can get where you’re going. Even if you have a car, you want to become familiar with various routes and means of transportation, so you’re ready for changing situations. 

Be sure to give yourself and your family members plenty of time to get out. The later you decide to leave, the bigger chance that you’ll be stuck in gridlock with everyone else. Check local radio alerts or navigation apps to see where the least amount of traffic is.

Let family members know where you are and where you are headed so you are accounted for. Keep phones charged but use them as little as possible to prevent overloading the system. 

Evacuation checklist

Stockpiling food, water, and other emergency supplies in your home is smart for a shelter-in-place scenario, but you may also need items ready to go. Keep a checklist in your emergency kit to make sure you don’t forget anything essential during an evacuation. 

A thorough checklist may include sections for important documents, emergency supplies, and home preparation. Remember that emergency supplies means preparing for your pets, too. 

This sample emergency evacuation checklist can help you prepare:

Copies of important documents

  • Driver’s license

  • House deed

  • Insurance declarations page

  • Medical records

  • Passports

  • Social security cards

  • Names and phone numbers of important contacts (in case the phone dies)

  • Home inventory

Go kit (for each person)

  • Food and water for three days

  • Emergency poncho 

  • Emergency blanket

  • NOAA radio with batteries, solar, or hand crank

  • Phone charger and extra batteries

  • Flashlight

  • Medication for at least two weeks

  • First aid kit

  • Pet food and water for three days

  • Pet carrier, leash, toys, and medication

Home preparation

  • Tie down yard furniture or put indoors

  • Secure trash bins or put indoors

  • Turn off utilities

  • Clear yard debris and remove weak or dead branches 

  • Sandbag home entryways (if expecting hurricane or flood)

  • Shutter windows and sliding glass doors

  • Move valuables in the house to higher floors or place on counters

When you do evacuate, make sure to lock your home to deter looters. Leave your home cautiously and safely. Know that everyone on the street is just as eager to get to their destination as you are. Be patient and know that you’ve done everything you can to prepare. 

While you can’t avert every disaster, you can do the work to reduce your total loss. Make sure you contact your insurance company to confirm your coverage is in force and what your limits are. 

Keep in mind that changing coverage or buying a new policy when there is an impending danger is unlikely. Insurance companies place moratoriums on new policies or changes during these periods. If you are unsure about your current coverage options, give us a call.

What is a mandatory evacuation?

A mandatory evacuation is a civil order from emergency management officials meant to proactively save lives during a natural disaster or emergency. During a mandatory evacuation, first responders go to each neighborhood to help residents get to safety. Once an area is cleared, rescuers are less likely to risk their own lives to save someone who is in the evacuation zone.

When do mandatory evacuations happen?

Widespread disasters may trigger a mandatory evacuation order. Those may be:

  • Hurricanes.

  • Wildfires.

  • Tsunamis.

  • Floods.

Mandatory evacuation laws vary by state and not every evacuation is mandatory. There are two types of evacuations: 

  1. Voluntary evacuation. As it sounds, this is a suggestion to get out of the area. These usually happen when a threat is likely but not imminent. By calling for voluntary evacuations, officials hope to reduce gridlock and last-minute panic.

  2. Mandatory evacuation. These are put in place when the danger is imminent. This may leave only hours (or less) to get your belongings and get out. By the time mandatory evacuations are called, the danger is a reality.

Do I have to leave during a mandatory evacuation?

Depending on where you live, you could face civil or criminal penalties if you don’t clear out. In California, those who don’t follow a mandatory evacuation order could be charged with a misdemeanor penalty of up to a $1,000 fine and six months imprisonment. You can be penalized either for staying behind or for entering and staying in an evacuation zone. Anyone who willfully resists, delays, or obstructs a public officer or first responder is subject to arrest, jail and fines.

For comparison, failure to comply with a mandatory evacuation in Florida is a second degree misdemeanor which has a maximum penalty of 60 days in county jail and or a fine of no more than $500.

Why some folks don’t evacuate

The decision to leave home during an emergency is not an easy one, and for some folks, it’s simply not accessible. For example, someone might not evacuate because they: 

  • Have disabilities and don’t have assistance.

  • Didn’t hear the warnings.

  • Refuse to leave their pets.

  • Want to mitigate losses to their home and belongings.

  • Don’t have a place to go or money for a hotel.

  • Survived previous similar disasters.

  • Worry it's too late to leave and they’ll be stuck in a gridlock.

While these reasons are valid, it’s important to get to safety if you can. Remember, too, that refusing to evacuate may put a rescue worker in a dangerous situation trying to save you.

For more tips on planning ahead, check out our article on making a disaster preparedness plan.


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