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What to bring with you if you need to evacuate your home

·6 min read
What to bring with you if you need to evacuate your home
What to bring with you if you need to evacuate your home

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While you never want to think about it happening to you and your household, natural disasters and crisis situations do happen—and it's a good idea to be prepared in case it happens to you. With dangerously powerful storms sweeping through the country and many areas experiencing extreme weather situations that aren't typically common to the area, it's best to be fully prepared with a proper emergency response plan—especially if an evacuation is in question.

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Whether you voluntarily evacuate from your home or are required by officials to evacuate, don't use precious time to scramble for items to take with you—create an emergency response plan and begin planning now. Here's what you should bring with you when you need to evacuate your home, according to government officials and disaster management experts.

How long should I prepare to be gone from my home?

When it comes to evacuating from your home, you may be wondering how long you'll be gone and how much you should bring with you for a given time period. While natural disasters can be unpredictable, there are two main time lengths for evacuations—with one being the most common one.

"You have short-term and long-term evacuations. Short-term evacuations last roughly seven days or less—these are the vast majority of evacuations," says Patrick Hardy, President of Hytropy Disaster Management, former FEMA representative and seasoned disaster expert. Hardy says you'll most likely experience a short-term evacuation with disasters like smaller-scale fires and certain kinds of storms like hurricanes.

Hardy says long-term evacuations are where you see large-scale damage, where you may not be able to access your community's area or your home for a long period of time.

The best way to prepare is to try to have a packing list that can work for either response—with the right basics and personal items that'll last you in a shelter, hotel or your next temporary home base.

Start with the basics

Prep for emergencies with an essentials kit.
Prep for emergencies with an essentials kit.

Your home should always have an emergency kit at home in case you need to shelter in place (think food, water, a first aid kit). Similarly, you'll want to have a "to-go" version of this emergency kit that you can rely on when it's time to evacuate.

A common mistake that Hardy says many people make is thinking you only have a small amount of time to pack up your bags and leave your home. While this is true for some emergencies, Hardy says in most cases you will have time to prepare. Still, you can plan ahead of time by gathering essential items that can relieve some of the stress of packing up and leaving.

You should start off with just the basic emergency kit with items. Here are just a few sample items from the American Red Cross's list you should have on hand (read the full list here):

A few emergency products that Hardy recommends including are tape, reflective vests, head flashlights, water purification tablets and a basic set of utensils. Store these items in a backpack, duffel bag or other carry-all—like our favorite soft-sided carry-on from Tom Bihn—that's easy to grab and go when the time comes.

Continue to build your kit with special considerations for your household

A basic emergency kit is a great start for what to bring with you when evacuating. However, the key to building the best packing list for your household is by keeping special considerations in mind. Do you have children or pets in the home? Do you live with an elder or a person with a disability? Will they need special care? Will they be able to evacuate if the situation arises? These, among many other factors, will impact your emergency response plan and which response you’ll choose.

A good place to start here is by looking at the '5 P's', as Hardy tells us. The 5 P's of evacuation stand for the following, according to Ready.gov, and should be considered in your evacuation plan:

  • People (and pets): What the people and pets in your household need to do to feel safe. For pets, make sure to have essentials like pet carriers (this one from Sleepypod is our favorite we've ever tested) or expandable travel food and water bowls for on-the-go use.

  • Prescriptions: The CDC recommends keeping at least a 7 to 10 day supply of prescription medications. A prescription you won't want to forget: your glasses or contact lenses.

  • Papers: Pack away important documents—both hard and electric copies if possible—like identification, insurance policies and bank account records. Consider protecting these all-important papers with a fireproof, water-resistant document bag.

  • Personal needs: This includes clothes, phones and chargers, or items specific to those who have disabilities or functional needs. A portable power bank, like our favorite one from Goal Zero, comes especially in handy when you need to charge your phones but aren't near any outlets.

  • Priceless items: Bring any momentos, photos or other valuable items you would be devastated to lose.

Don't forget COVID-19 essentials

Your emergency supply should also be prepared with COVID-19 in mind. Keep essentials to protect you and your family from COVID-19 when evacuating your home.

Be sure to have plenty of face masks for everyone in the family. Choose disposable ones if you won't have access to wash your reusable ones. Pack hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes and use as needed for travel.

Start planning now

In moments of crisis, your focus should be on keeping you and your family safe—eliminating additional stressors like last-minute packing or trying to remember what additional personal items you'll need is essential. Begin planning as soon as you can before an emergency situation arises. Always have an emergency kit for your home and a go-bag at the ready for when it's time to leave. It's better to have them and not need them than to be unprepared and in a pickle.

Ready.gov says you should have a plan on how you will leave and where you will go if you need to evacuate. You should have a few potential places in mind, such as extended family or friend's homes in another town, along with motels or hotels you could stay at.

Finally, remember to follow the advice and instructions of local officials about when it's all clear to return back to your home.

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This article originally appeared on Reviewed: Evacuation plan: What to bring in your emergency kit