Plans to Evacuate Your Home

You have no control over if or when your city issues an evacuation order that affects your family. You DO have total control over how that experience plays out. It's important to follow the instructions of local authorities and leave as soon as possible when an evacuation order is issued. Having an emergency plan in place and being prepared to evacuate quickly can help ensure that you are able to leave safely in the event of an emergency.

Emergency Planning
Evacuation Stages

Warning stages

Evacuation warning stages are not standardized across all states in the U.S as each has its own system. Let's use California's system as an example.

A few years back, the California Office of Emergency Services recommended agencies standardize evacuation terms. The guidance purged the voluntary and mandatory evacuation categories and settled on evacuation warnings and evacuation orders. (Not all local agencies in the state follow these recommendations.)

Some states may use different terminology or have different levels of evacuation warnings, but overall, the meaning behind the terminology will most likely be much the same. So, let's take a look at these two stages, warning vs order, and build our evacuation plan around them.

Evacuation Warning

This means there’s a potential threat to your life and/or property and you need to start the process of getting your things together in case an order is issued next. Warnings are issued, if possible, before the order itself. But emergency situations don’t always allow for warnings.

Evacuation Order

This means there’s an immediate threat to your life and/or property When orders are issued you need to leave immediately. Immediately can mean just minutes, or it could be a few hours. The order will let you know how much time you have. You will not be let back in until the order is lifted.

What terminology does your state use?

Your state may use different terminology or have different levels of evacuation warnings. When we use the term "warning", is that what your state calls it? If not, does different terminology mean the same thing? It's important to be familiar with the evacuation warning system used in your state and local area to ensure that you know what terms mean in the event of an emergency.

Evacuation Plan
Preparing to Evacuate

5 Steps of Preparation

gathering supplies | making lists | assigning evacuation tasks | prepping your car | making destination plans

We don’t have to wait for a warning to be issued to prepare. This is the default and what emergency preparation is all about…being prepared with everything in place, just in case. With a little work now, you will be prepared to deal with an evacuation warning and the order without a previous warning. Remember, the following are steps to complete BEFORE any warning is issued.

5 Steps of Preparation

We don’t have to wait for a warning to be issued to prepare. This is the default and what emergency preparation is all about…being prepared with everything in place, just in case. With a little work now, you will be prepared to deal with an evacuation warning and the order without a previous warning. Remember, the following are steps to complete BEFORE any warning is issued.

Gathering your supplies

Have the following kits packed and on stand-by so you can get out the door with priority items you will need, and secondary items if you have time.

Grab & Go Bag

Priority item: includes food, water, extra clothing, hygiene, sanitation, etc. Learn more about creating a grab & go bag for each family member and for pets.

Grab & Go Binder

Priority item: being evacuated is why we gather personal information we may need while away from home. Learn more about creating a grab & go binder.

Family Kits

Secondary items: family kits allow you to take more creature comforts on the road. Take them with you only if you have first been issued a warning and have the time to gather them along with priority items.

The Grab List

When you are panicked and trying to get out of the house, it would be easy to forget half of what you need to take with you, especially if you’re not given much time. Creating lists does the thinking for you.

Priority Items

The grab list is first introduced while you are building your grab & go bags, binders, and family kits. These are items you need to take but can’t be packed away. These are priority items because they complete your evacuation kits.

Secondary Items

Now that we are doing our evacuation planning, we can take the grab list one step further by adding secondary items. These are items that we’d like to take if we have the time to gather them and space in the car to accommodate them.

Evacuation Assignments

Once a warning is issued, there are actions you can start taking immediately that will help you get out the door faster should an actual evacuation order be issued.

There are six main categories, each with various steps. Each step should be written and assigned to responsible adults during your evacuation planning process. What happens with each will depend on whether a warning and order is being issued, or an order-only.

  • children
  • pets
  • grab list
  • car
  • home
  • adult-self

Evacuation Assignment Checklist

You can download this evacuation assignment checklist to use or come up with your own. Make a copy and keep the checklist in two locations: your grab & go binder and an agreed upon location. This later location is the list you can quickly grab and make reference to once a warning or order has been issued.

Your Car

There are at least three important things you can do on a regular basis to help your car help you in an evacuation.

  • Always keep your gas tank at least ½ full.
  • Keep your car properly maintained: tire pressure, brakes, headlights, oil changed.
  • Make sure to have your auto kit stored inside your vehicle.

Destination Plan

Part of your evacuation plan includes a few destination options, taking into account direction and mode of transportation. Have pre-planned evacuation routes and locations to stay. Whether by car or foot, if a member of your family is not with you and/or you have pets, do the following:

  • If you are missing a family member, refer to the family meeting location and make this your first stop if possible.
  • Each plan should include the taking of your pets. Never leave them home when you evacuate. They are better off with you.
  • Learn about pet friendly hotels, or what to do if you go to a mass-care shelter, as they will not house your pet.

By Car

You will most likely evacuate by car.

  • Consider a friend or family member’s home, a hotel or motel, a mass-care shelter, or other locations far removed from the evacuation area.
  • Plan two routes for each direction – and be aware of other routes as well. If advised, follow recommended routes as your planned routes may be closed off.
  • Go to the safest location you can that is as close as possible to home. Long-distance evacuation can be a problem when highways are crowded.
  • Avoid crowded highways and densely populated areas where possible, and try to stay off main highways feeding into the city.
  • Be smart: look for downed powerlines, don’t drive in flooded areas, etc.
By Foot

You may not own a car, your car may not be working, or there is too much gridlock to successfully evacuate by car.

  • Know what routes to take if you must leave on foot. Consider how far family members can walk.
  • Have a small road altas and compass ready to go.
  • Dress appropriately for the time of year and have a good pair of walking shoes.
  • Take only most important kits that will give you 3 to 5 days of supplies. This should include all grab & go bags and binder.
  • Know where and how you will sleep. A family shelter & warmth kit will help in this scenario but someone has to be able to carry it.

  • If anyone in your household has a disability that requires any type of special care or equipment, make specific plans to accommodate these needs.
Evacuation Plan
About Mass-Care Shelters

Though food, water, medicine, and basic sanitary facilities are available at mass-care shelters, you should still take your emergency kits with you if you evacuate to one of them. Understand that mass care sheltering can involve living with many people in a confined space, which can be difficult and unpleasant. If you have family or friends that can help you then try that first. If not, it does offer a place to land your feet.

How to find an open shelter

During an emergency, you can find open shelters by texting SHELTER and a ZIP CODE to 43362 (4FEMA). Example: Shelter 01234 - Have this information stored in your cell phone.

Declared emergency information can be accessed by visiting

Pets and mass-care shelters

Unless your pet is a service animal, he or she will not be allowed inside a mass-care shelter set up for families. However, since the pet catastrophe that took place during Katrina, cities must now have a pet shelter available as well. Local animal organizations may set up shelters adjacent to human shelters (called co-sheltering).

Important points
  • The pet shelter may require you to show proof of specific vaccinations.

  • You will be totally responsible for feeding, watering, and walking your pets. They will need to stay confined in carriers/cages until you arrive each day to care for them.
  • Learn more about creating an evacuation plan and emergency kit specifically for your pet.