This is a guest post that addresses a problem that I have seen during my years in fire and law enforcement. You need an evacuation plan especially if you have young children and elderly or disabled people in your home. I have personally seen instances of your children hiding in a closet from a fire and dieing there. Also don’t forget to have a meeting place outside your home.
Whether you are preparing for the big one or the many small ones that may come before it, you need to have a well-designed home evacuation plan. When things start to go wrong in the place where you rest your head, you need to get out and be safe while doing so. All kinds of things can go wrong in these instances, so it’s best to prepare as much as possible beforehand. You may not be able to execute your plan without a few in the moment alterations, but we will talk about the ways to plan for contingencies and in the moment reassessments.
Who is in the home?
Depending on the types of residents in your home, the evacuation plan will have to adapt. The most worrying inhabitants are children, the physically disabled, and the elderly. Each one of these categories is going to add a varying degree of difficulty to your evacuation plan. These issues only ever become life threatening, when there is no planning, so if you have residents who fit into this category, there is still time to make sure that both they and you will be safe.
Children– If there is one group, which is most likely to need assistance in the instance of an evacuation, it is children. They may get disoriented, and at times may make inappropriate choices. These types of life-threatening choices may be hiding, going to an exit, which is blocked, or heading to acquire a sentimental item instead of evacuating. Similarly, a child may get out of the home before you, and leave you searching the house in vain. Communication is key with children. Let them know your expectations, and make sure that they understand the plans you have put in place.
Physically Disabled– Ideally, you should be able to carry anyone who cannot walk, or is unable to move quickly without assistance. If there are multiple people who would need this assistance or one person who is simply too heavy, you will need to take alternative precautions. Even with an electric chair lift or elevator, these individuals should not be sleeping on anything but a ground floor. You do not want to be hoping for electrical assistance in an emergency. Even if you are using solar panels and backup generators, in an emergency those devices may be damaged. Create an agreed upon plan for how you will help these people.
Elderly– There may be some readers out there that are getting up there in years, but that is not what I mean by elderly. In this case, the term “elderly” is meant to describe a group, which is disabled, but also very fragile. These individuals will need assistance out of the home in the event of an emergency, but you will not be able to yank them up or throw them over your back without injuring them. Methods of assisting members of this group should be handled with care, and cannot be done quickly. If they are handled roughly, be sure that you can get them the proper medical care after the evacuation.
Know your Layout
The area you are evacuating is going to be unique. There are going to be some exits that are better than others, and places in the home where safe egress is as good as impossible. You want to know what the best chance of escape is, and also what is the next best option. If you have layered security, make sure it is easy to enough to access from the inside. Always have at least two exit paths, and make sure they do not intersect. If one thing falling, collapsing, etc. can block both paths, then you only have one exit path.
Good Exit- (What You Want)
- No shelves on the walls
- Leads outside
- Nothing on the floor
- The door can fully open
- Locks work smoothly
Bad Exit- (Try To Avoid)
- Door sticks to the frame
- Some obstructions
- Shelving on the sides of the door
- A door that leads to another door
- Poorly working locks
Not an Exit- (Don’t Plan On It)
- Large object needs to be moved to access door
- Door uses a double sided deadbolt
- There is no door
Plan for problems
The very nature of a disaster means that there is going to be very little warning and a whole lot of chaos. People are not always going to react in a rational and collected manner. You may have to collect certain people in the house yourself, other than the types described in the section above. Doors can become blocked, broken glass can fall into walkways, or any other list of issues may arise. You want to be wearing shoes, and these can be anything as long as they can be put on quickly and will protect the soles of your feet. Find at least two exits that are on separate walls of the home. That way if a tree falls, or a part of the house collapses, there is a greater chance that the second exit will not be affected.
Know how much you can lose. If you have a comfortable amount of acceptable loss, you will have a better mindset to reassess issues in the moment. The more certain you are of your value system, the more time you will have to get out of your home. The more you can leave behind, the more options you have for escape. Having supplies at off-site locations can make easier to leave items behind. Objects of sentimental value should be placed in a safe that will be able to protect them from the disasters you are vulnerable to. The things in the safe can be acquired after the disaster is over, or when it is ok to enter the home again. When you need to get out, time is of the essence, and time should not be wasted on securing nonessential items. It is a rather cold perspective, but sentiment and survival rarely lead to the same destination.
Where to go
Many people do the bare minimum of planning when they make a home evacuation plan. They simply plan on how they will leave the house, and sometimes they will have a space blanket and some food in an emergency kit. But is your plan really to stand outside of a house that may be compromised due to a fire, flood, earthquake, or robbery? That should not be part of the plan. You need a secondary location, which has not been compromised. Ideally, this will be a network of practical locations. It should be a network because your bug out location will most likely not work for instances where you may still have to go to work in the next few days. You should have a place to stay that is in the general area you live. That way you can check up on your damaged property and continue making a living. Talk to your friend group ahead of time, and get permission to stay with them in these scenarios. Out of kindness and reciprocity, you should offer these individuals your home in the event of similar circumstances.
What do you worry about?
Something as vague as a home evacuation plan does not seem all that helpful. Most people want specifics, because in trying to help everyone you inevitably end up helping no one. I disagree with this line of thinking when it comes to security. I believe that vague is better because true protection means being able to think on your feet, and get creative. Detailed how-to survival guides are not going to help you at all in an emergency. You need to train your critical thinking and situational awareness. It can be crippling to have to plan for every eventuality, so start slow.
Begin your planning with the most likely risk that your home is facing. This is not the same as the risk that concerns you the most. In order to head down the path of greatest protection, you need to be able to separate the most likely from the most concerning. For example, you may be very concerned with the US grid system collapsing, but if you live in an area that has annual wildfires, which should you anticipate first? Trust me, you will be working up to the big stuff by planning for the smaller. Build out your planning from most likely to least likely, and the constant planning and research processes will condition your mind to analyze predicaments more quickly. Start planning for the mundane, so you will be ready for TEOTWAWKI.
Ralph Goodman is a professional writer and the resident expert locksmith on locks and security over at the Lock Blog. The Lock Blog is a great resource to learn about keys, locks and safety. They offer tips, advice and how-to’s for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals.