Evacuation checklist: How to get your family out safely in the face of an imminent disaster

By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer

Your mayor has announced a mandatory evacuation due to an impending disaster, giving your family mere hours to prepare. Would you know where to go and what essential items to bring?

Establishing an emergency plan in case you need to leave home quickly can keep your family safe and take strain off coping with the aftermath of a natural disaster.

“What we’re finding with people that don’t have a plan in place is that they’re faced with a great deal of pressure and might not prioritize correctly,” said Lisa Lindsay, executive director with the Private Risk Management Association.

A key way to prepare is to put together an emergency go bag, or bug out bag, for each of your family members in the event of a quick evacuation.

Emergency preparedness checklist

(Photo/fstop123/Getty Images)

Your bags should be able to get your family members through at least 72 hours once you reach a safer location.

Some items you might include would be prescription medications, hygienic products, a first aid kit, water and nonperishable food, cash and an emergency radio.

“A change of clothes is very important, including socks and underwear, because that’s one of the things people forget,” said Dr. Lisanda Pagán, business and contingency consultant for Deliberate Plan Consulting.

You should also copy, scan and email important documents to yourself, because a memory drive may get lost. If you choose to save them on a memory drive, be sure to store them in a waterproof place, Pagán recommended.

Also, don’t forget about creating digital copies of irreplaceable items such as family photos.

“It’s so troubling that with the number of pictures out there, so few have been digitized,” said Mitch Goldstone, president and chief executive officer of Scan My Photos.

He stressed the importance of not only digitizing photos but also having backups saved to a cloud or at a relative or friend’s house.

Once your go bags are prepared, it’s time to brainstorm a plan for evacuating with little notice.

Evacuation time: 30 minutes

With only half an hour to leave home, your family should grab their bags and ensure that you have forms of personal identification as well as documents like health insurance cards, bank cards and birth certificates.

“If you don’t have an emergency kit, grab a backpack and fill it with [essential] items if you can find them quickly,” Pagán said. “If not, bring a change of clothes, documents, water, nonperishable foods or snacks you might have, cash, your phone and charger and leave.”

A spare roll of toilet paper and spare glasses will also be helpful, said Bill Horne, principle of William Warren Consulting.

Be sure you bring emergency information for your pets as well, including a photo, owner contact information, food, water and vaccine information, Pagán said.

Infographic - Evacuation go bag essentials

Bring them along if possible, but keep in mind that not all shelters accept animals.

"If you can’t take them with you, you need to leave them in a secure place with food and water,” Pagán said. “Don’t tie or chain them and don’t leave them outside.”

Pagán suggested placing a sign on a window to alert rescuers to the pet inside the home.

Evacuation time: Two hours

With two hours to prepare, grab your go bag or kit and bring along additional clothing, a blanket and a pair of shoes.

“You should also take pictures of how your house and belongings look before you left in case there is damage, [so you] have before pictures to present your insurance claim,” Pagán said.

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If any of your family members have mobility issues, be sure to bring along whatever items they will need, Pagán added.

“Find brightly-colored caps for everyone, preferably the orange kind that hunters wear,” Horne recommended.

Evacuation time: Four hours

Four hours will give you ample time to call friends and family, letting them know where you’re headed.

Pagán said that it’s a great time to ensure that your home and property are secured.

“You’ll have time to close gas lines, check water drainage, remove debris to avoid drainage issues and waterproof your bags or backpacks,” she said.

Horne added that canned food, waterproof matches, candles and even sleeping bags would be items to consider grabbing.

You can also contact local area shelters to ask if they can accommodate your family and pets.

“It is proven that at the last minute, you can’t find what you need, or even remember,” Pagán said. “Do yourself a favor and prepare a ready-to-go emergency kit and have it in an accessible place.”

For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.

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