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During a Disaster Event Should You Stay at Home or Leave?

Copyright December 21, 2007 by Robert Wayne Atkins, P.E.
All rights reserved and all rights protected under international copyright law.

Different types of disasters may require a different response if a family wishes to maximize their chances for long-term survival. Therefore each family should have several different disaster plans they could successfully implement depending on the circumstances. These plans should include:
  1. Staying at your home and being able to survive for a reasonable period of time without any outside assistance, and
  2. Quickly and efficiently evacuating your home and traveling to a predetermined destination.
Neither one of the above strategies would always be the best choice for every possible type of disaster situation. Therefore each family should evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of both of the above options based on: (1) the type of disaster, (2) where they currently live, (3) the specific needs of their individual family members, (4) the amount of supplies they have stored for a disaster emergency, and (5) their ability to actually evacuate their current home or apartment.

Staying at home is probably the best overall strategy for most families in a variety of different disaster type situations. However, there are a few scenarios where your continued long-term survival may necessitate the evacuation of your home. For example, consider each of the following situations:

Burning Building Fire in a city, suburb, or country: The only option is to leave and to leave quickly. Even if the fire doesn't reach your home, the smoke could make it impossible to breathe, or the heat could kill you. If your home does survive then the smoke from the fire will probably saturate many of your possessions and they will have to be replaced.

Flooding From Heavy Rains or Hurricanes: During severe flash flooding many homes, trees, and cars are completely swept away. If you stay you die. In other areas only the first floor of a home may be under water. You might be safe on the second floor, or in the attic, or on your roof. In most flooding situations the water does eventually recede and you can go downstairs. However, the building foundation is now weakened, the floors are warped, the walls are cracked and peeling, and the appliances are ruined. It these cases it frequently costs less to rebuild from scratch than to repair all the damaged areas. And living in the home during the repairs is not an option because the mold and mildew that is now growing in your floors and walls will produce air-borne spores that will make you sick and gradually kill you. If this situation your only option will be to leave. (Note: If you become unexpectedly stranded in your home during a flood and you can't evacuate, then you should quickly transfer your most important possessions to the second floor or attic to reduce the possibility of their becoming water damaged.)

Drought: The lakes dry up. The city water supply is exhausted. The city must be evacuated. You may stay if you wish but why would you want to? What type of people do you think will become your new neighbors? How will you survive when your current supply of food and water is eventually gone and the drought continues? Without rain there will be no way to replenish your water supply and no way to grow more food. Without water how will the city survive if someone's very small cooking fire accidentally gets out of control and quickly spreads throughout a very, very dry building? In a very short period of time the entire city will be in flames. And if the city has already been evacuated then you will not receive any warning until you see the flames or smell the smoke, assuming it doesn't happen while you are asleep.

Hospital Sign Epidemic: Is the disease spreading by water, air, human contact, fleas, lice, mosquitoes, flies, or some combination of methods? What percent of the population is dying? Staying inside your home in this situation would probably be the best solution unless the virus is being spread through the air or by insects. If that is the case and you are living in a heavily populated area then how long will it take the virus to eventually make its way into your air supply or home? If you had a gas mask or face filters then you might be able to escape to a remote region of a national forest where the virus will have a smaller chance of reaching and infecting you.

Soldiers Martial Law: Why was it implemented? What are the restrictions? And do you really want to live in a heavily populated area that is being policed by the military and where you could be executed by anyone in the military for any reason at any time without any type of trial?

Political or Religious Persecution: What if all registered Republicans are suddenly declared to be enemies of the state? Or all Democrats? Or all Protestants or Catholics or Muslins? Some of you may be laughing right now and saying this is impossible and it could never happen in this country. I truly hope you are right. But what if you are wrong? What if you suddenly heard on the news that you are now a member of a group of people that has been identified as being enemies of the state? What would be your plan for survival? If you remain where you currently live it would only result in your immediate arrest, trial, and either imprisonment or execution. During World War II in Germany there were millions of Jews, Christians, and several other groups of individuals who learned this lesson the hard way. And Germany is not an isolated example. This has happened many, many times in many different places during the history of our world.

None of these things are pleasant to think about but the above threats are real. If any one of them should occur where you now live then you may need to evacuate your home or apartment very quickly in order to have any chance for long-term survival.

How to quickly and efficiently evacuate your home or apartment is not something most people take the time to think about. However, over the past few years the increasing number of families that have had to quickly evacuate their homes is extraordinary. Entire families and communities have been uprooted and moved to another area and in many cases they will never be able to return to their homes or to the life they once knew. Hurricanes, flooding, and forest fires have resulted in the loss of billions of dollars worth of possessions and have claimed an unknown number of lives. Devastating winter weather has crippled many areas and left hundreds of thousands of homes without electricity or heat in the middle of winter and forced people to seek asylum and basic survival in community shelters, schools and churches.

Flash floods and forest fires happen so quickly that people do not have the time to carefully consider what they should take with them. Later when they return and find their home and possessions reduced to cinders, or ruined from water damage, they wished they'd had more time to think about their choices before they were forced to evacuate.

Therefore, before a disaster strikes, prudent individuals will make a simple list of the most important things to salvage in the event of a disaster. Later, if a disaster should force them to evacuate their home then they can consult their list and quickly execute their plan and collect and save their most important possessions. They could salvage the things they would need to survive under difficult circumstances, and things that would make their transition to a different life style not only possible but also a little easier for their entire family.

If you survive a disaster then you can start over. If you have a plan, starting over will not be as difficult as someone who evacuates without a plan. Unfortunately some of the people who survive without a plan will eventually resort to robbing and/or killing. Predators do not discriminate and they will prey on one another as well as on the helpless. Human predators are usually a self-correcting problem during a disaster, if the disaster lasts long enough.

If you must evacuate your home you should have carefully considered ahead of time where you will go. Your destination should not be a last minute decision because your choice of a destination is as important as carefully selecting which items to take with you.

Preplanned Destination Options

Let's examine several different destination options. In each of the following situations you should attempt to pay your expenses using whatever credit cards you have available and save whatever cash you might have for a future emergency. If your family has more than one car then you should quickly load all of your vehicles to the maximum, without overloading them, and then your family should drive out of the disaster area. Before you start you should have consulted a map and selected a minimum of two alternate routes that lead to your final destination. Then listen to your car radio as you are driving to see if there are traffic or other problems along any of your planned departure routes. The quicker you can be underway the better your chances will be that you can get your family to safety.

Your safe destination could be any one of the following:

Family: If you have family members who live outside the impacted disaster area then they may be willing to provide you with shelter for a short period of time until the disaster has passed and you can return to your home. However most families live on a very tight budget and they will not be able to feed and clothe you for an extended period of time. It would be nice if you paid for some of the groceries while you are there, and also made a contribution to their utility bills. If it later becomes impossible for you to return to your original home then you will need to find new employment and a place to live as quickly as you can to relieve the pressure on family relationships. If your new job does not pay enough so you afford to rent a place of your own, then you should give at least half of each of your paychecks to the family you are staying with to help pay their bills. You should also remember that you are still a guest in their house, and that every member of your family needs to abide by their rules.

Friends: The above comments about family also apply to very close friends. However the relationship is much weaker and friends should only be imposed upon for the absolute minimum amount of time. Even if you have discussed this situation with your friends in advance, it would still be a good idea to minimize the amount of time you stay with them.

Motel: A motel located outside the disaster area is a good option if you can afford it, and if the disaster is forecasted to be relatively short in duration. Once the disaster passes you may be able to return to your normal way of life. An Extended Stay Motel might be a better option because you can pay by the week or month and each room also has a few kitchen appliances, such as a refrigerator and a microwave. Before paying the rent always politely ask if you can see the actual room you will be renting.

Boarding House: Depending on the size of your family you may be able to rent a simple room in a boarding house on a weekly or monthly basis. You can read the "For Rent" section of the local newspaper to locate one these places and then you can call to see what their rules are. You should phone several places to find the best deal based on what your family requires.

Eating Outdoors Forest Campground or RV (Recreational Vehicle) Park: If the weather permits, then a campground or RV Park may be an option if you have an RV, or a camper, or if you have a good tent and some camping gear. Many RV Parks have a separate campground area for tents. They also have a community shower area, one for men and one for women, and they have drinking water available near the campsite. A good tent is not an expensive investment and every family should have a tent to avoid being forced into a Government Shelter for survival. Even if you have no money you can still camp for free in most National Forests as long as you don't stay at one of the official forest campgrounds. However, you will need to move your campsite at least once per week to a different area to comply with forest regulations. (Note: If you own an RV or camper then it might be wise to find an RV storage site close to your planned evacuation destination. The monthly rental to store and park an RV is about the same everywhere but the advantage of parking it near your planned destination is that your RV would already there. If you have family members who live on acreage way out in the country then they may be willing to let you park your RV at their place for free.)

Government or Community Shelter: As a last resort, you could temporarily reside in a shelter. There are usually three different types of shelters: (1) a state or federal shelter, (2) a local community shelter, and (3) a church or school temporary shelter. A church operated temporary disaster shelter is usually less restrictive than the other types of shelters. However, before you go to any type of shelter it might be a good idea to rent a temporary storage facility and store all your equipment, supplies, and personal belongings in the storage unit. The primary reason for storing your possessions in a rental unit is because many of the cars parked near a shelter location will be vandalized by thieves if they see anything worth stealing through the windows of the vehicle. Many of the monthly storage rental units are large enough to drive a car into so you could park your extra car inside and still have room to store all your equipment and supplies. You are also allowed to put your own personal padlock on the door to your rental unit. (Note: Some storage units will not allow you to park a car inside the actual rental unit but they will rent you space inside the fenced area to park your car on a monthly basis. In this situation completely empty your car into the rental until before you park it.) If you have cash, or if you can get cash from an ATM, then you should pay the rent in cash to avoid leaving an electronic trail to the location where you are storing your remaining possessions. Depending on the circumstances it might be wise to pay the rent for a minimum of three months in advance and get a receipt. Your entire family could then get into the remaining vehicle and drive to the shelter location. Just remember that some government shelters are easy to get into but almost impossible to get out of until the authorities are ready to release you. If you become a voluntary prisoner at one of these shelters you may discover that life in the shelter is unbearable and that you are not allowed to leave simply because you now realize you should have never entered the shelter. When you first enter the shelter, government shelter personnel will carefully search you and confiscate any weapons, knives, drugs including prescription medicines, tools, children toys, money, makeup, wallets, purses, keys, and any extra food you may be carrying with you. It is unlikely you will get all of these items back when it is time for you to leave. In some cases you will only be allowed to enter the shelter with the clothes you are wearing and a new identification card, or wrist band, issued to you at the shelter. This makes escape from the shelter less feasible because you will have surrendered all your possessions including your driver's license, credit cards, money, and keys. This forces you to follow any rules the shelter may impose because you are now defenseless and you know you now have no other choice in the matter. In a worst case scenario, savage brute force will dominate inside these shelters and your family members will be subject to beatings, rape, and having their daily food rations forcibly confiscated by the strongest residents in the shelter. These evil individuals will continue to grow stronger as your family members continue to grow weaker and eventually die of disease or starvation. These are some of the reasons why a church shelter or a local community volunteer shelter would be preferred to a federal or state government shelter. It is also important to mention that not all government shelters are run the same way and therefore you should determine what the rules and regulations are in any shelter before you agree to enter it. You should also be aware of the fact that the shelter rules can be changed at any time without notifying you or consulting you prior to the change.

The above discussion has focused on: (1) the need to evacuate, and (2) several different possible destinations. Please click on the "Hard Times Suvival" button at the top of this page if you wish to read some other information about this topic.

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Grandpappy's e-mail address is: RobertWayneAtkins@hotmail.com