Why talk about evacuation?

At any time of the year, at any time of the day or night, a disaster or threat of a disaster could force people to leave their homes, offices, and schools or even the community in which they live. People evacuate a dangerous place to go to a safer place, and they usually need to act in a hurry. Preparing before an emergency by learning about the community’s warning systems and evacuation routes and by making evacuation plans and discussing them with household members is the best way to be ready in case an evacuation is necessary. Making plans at the last minute can be upsetting, create confusion, and cost precious time.

Why talk about sheltering?

Sometimes, a disaster or threat of disaster mandates that people find shelter in their home or in whatever building they happen to be. Safe shelter requires having a safe place to go and having the time to get there. It is important to know which room to shelter in and what to do to stay safe while there. At other times, people are forced to evacuate the immediate area, or even the entire region, and to shelter at public facilities. Knowing in advance what to expect and preparing for all sheltering scenarios will make sheltering experiences safer and more comfortable.

What if you have pets?

Because evacuation shelters generally do not accept pets, except for service animals, you must plan ahead to ensure that your family and pets will have a safe place to stay. Do your research early. Contact hotels and motels outside your immediate area to check policies on accepting pets. Ask about any restrictions on number, size, and species. Ask if “no pet” policies would be waived in an emergency. Make a list of pet-friendly places and keep it handy. Call ahead for a reservation as soon as you think you might have to leave your home.

Check with friends, relatives, or others outside your immediate area. Ask if they would be able to shelter you and your animals, or just your animals if necessary. If you have more than one pet, you may have to be prepared to house them separately.

Make a list of boarding facilities and veterinary offices that might be able to shelter animals in emergencies and include 24-hour numbers.

Ask your local animal shelter if it provides foster care or shelter for pets in an emergency. This should be your last resort, as shelters have limited resources and are likely to be stretched to their limits during an emergency.

Evacuation Checklist

Make some notes on what to do in the event you need to evacuate your home. If you have a more detailed plan, note its location.


Consider your transportation options in case you have to evacuate. If you do not own or drive a car, ask your local emergency manager about plans for people without private vehicles.

If you are in an area that is being evacuated:
  • Evacuate immediately if told to do so by authorities. Authorities do not ask people to leave unless they conclude that lives may be in danger.
  • Listen to a local radio or television station and follow the instructions of local emergency officials. Local officials know the most appropriate advice for your particular situation.
  • Wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and sturdy shoes. The most common injury following disasters is cut feet.
  • Lock your home. Secure your home as you normally would when leaving for an extended period.
  • Take your pets with you when you leave, provided you can do so without endangering yourself.
  • Use travel routes specified by local authorities. Since certain areas may be impassable or dangerous, avoid shortcuts. Do not drive through moving water. Barriers are placed for your safety; if you come upon a barrier, follow posted detour signs.

If you have only moments before leaving, grab your Disaster Supplies Kit and go. If it is impossible for you to take your Disaster Supplies Kit, at least try to take the following:

  • Any pets that you can get without endangering yourself. You may not be able to come back for them later, as it may be too dangerous to return.
  • First aid kit, including prescription medications, dentures, extra eyeglasses, and hearing aid batteries
  • A change of clothes and a sleeping bag or blankets for each household member
  • Flashlight, radio, and water
  • Car keys and house keys
  • Cash and personal identification

If you have time before leaving and local officials have not advised an immediate evacuation, prepare your home before evacuating. Quickly take steps to protect your home and belongings. Depending on the threat, you should:

  • Bring all pets into the house and confine them to one room, if you can. If necessary, make arrangements for your pets. Pets may try to run if they feel threatened. Keeping them inside and in one room will allow you to find them quickly if you need to leave. If you have large, unusual, or numerous animals, start evacuating them or moving them to your shelter area (if you are sheltering in place) as soon as you are aware of impending danger. If you are using a horse or other trailer to evacuate your animals, move early rather than wait until it may be too late to maneuver a trailer through slow traffic, high winds, and heavy rain.
  • Put your Disaster Supplies Kit in your vehicle or by the door if you are being picked up or may be leaving on foot. In some disaster situations, such as tsunami or wildland fire, it is better to leave by foot than wait for transportation. Carry what you can, selecting the items most essential to your health and safety.
  • Tell your out-of-town contact in your Family Disaster Plan where you are going and when you expect to get there. Relatives and friends will be concerned about your safety. Letting someone know your travel plans will help relieve the fear and anxiety of those who care.
  • Bring things indoors. Lawn furniture, trash cans, children's toys, garden equipment, clotheslines, hanging plants, and any other objects that may be blown around or swept away should be brought indoors.
  • Look for potential hazards. Look for coconuts, unripened fruit, and other objects in trees around your property that could blow or break off and fly around in strong winds. Cut these objects off and store them indoors until the storm is over. If you have not already cut away dead or diseased branches or limbs from trees and shrubs, leave them alone. Local rubbish collection services will not have time before a major storm to pick anything up.
  • Turn off electricity at the main fuse or breaker, and turn off water at the main valve.
  • Leave natural gas on, unless local officials advise otherwise, because you will need it for heating and cooking when you return home. If you turn gas off, a licensed professional is required to turn it back on, and it may take weeks for a professional to respond.
  • Turn off propane gas service valves. Propane tanks often become damaged or dislodged in disasters.
  • If strong winds are expected, cover the outside of all the windows of your home. Use shutters that are rated to provide significant protection from windblown debris, or put pre-fit plywood coverings over all windows.
  • If flooding is expected, consider using sand bags to keep water away from your home. It takes two people about one hour to fill and place 100 sandbags, giving you a wall one-foot (0.3-meter) high and 20-feet (6-meters) long. Make sure you have enough sand, burlap or plastic bags, shovels, strong helpers, and time to place them properly.