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Creating An Emergency Evacuation Plan

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When civil authorities knock on the door and tell you to get out immediately, you don't have time to pack a suitcase and shouldn't even head to the safe room for the travel kit. Get everyone in the car and go. Keeping a basic emergency kit in the car ensures you'll still have the essentials. Anyone heading to an emergency shelter should bring their own supplies, and the debacle at the Super Dome in New Orleans gives us a clear view of what happens when people don't. That could be the situation you're racing to join, but it's better than being trapped in a flash flood, tsunami, or firestorm.

In other circumstances you'll have hours or days to prepare for evacuation. Most of the items in your home survival kit would be useful at the shelter, but there won't be room or need for everything. Ensuring that a critical portion of that gear is portable prevents last minute delays and mistakes — all you'll need to do is load a few pieces of gear and pre-arranged supplies and you're set for the road. More info on that system below.

It's easy to ignore warnings and just stay put, because warnings often turn out to be false alarms. The smartest thing to do is cooperate with the evacuation order. If you have a home to come back to when it's over, that's a good thing. If you don't, you'll be happy you left.

A (Partially) Portable Home Emergency Kit

If you've assembled a decent home emergency kit, then you've got the makings of a portable kit as well. The trick is making sure that the supplies you'll want to take on the road are packed portably.

One backpack should be packed for each member of the family — containing enough personal items inside to last three days. Prescription medicines, first-aid kit and official documents go with an adult, and one person carries the cookstove and water purification system. Store food and water in containers ready for quick transport. Buy bottled water by the case, for example, and leave the mobile water supply in the packaging. Extra food in a storage bin gives you several days more of guaranteed meals, easily loaded in the car.

Tools always come in handy so don't leave any of the emergency tools behind. The axe, crowbar and saw could all be very useful if you have to cut your way through a downed tree or clear a pile of wreckage from the road.

Here's a good list of critical supplies from your home kit to include in the portable kit:

  • Tent large enough for the group
  • Prescription medicines, official documents and cash
  • First aid kit
  • Extra food and water in separate storage chest or sealed bucket
  • Emergency tool kit — axe, hammer, saw, crowbar and urban survival knife
  • Cookstove and mess kit
  • Pump water filter
  • Water purification tablets
  • NOAA AM-FM emergency radio

Auto Survival

FEMA's list of necessities for the car includes only food, water, first aid supplies, flares, jumper cables, and seasonal supplies. Pay more attention to your car's emergency kit, because in some situations you'll have nothing else. A house fire could push you into the outside world with nothing but the clothes you happen to be wearing.

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The best food to keep in a car for the long term is dried food in a sealed package. MRE's or Meals Ready to Eat are also good, but anything edible needs protection from sunlight and from animals, even in the car. Packages of non-perishable foods attract mice, so store food in a container that can't be breached by foraging rodents. If you're visiting a wilderness area with a bear population, don't forget about that emergency stash of food hidden in the car. In many places bears have learned to open cars if they smell food inside, and they don't open cars neatly. Keeping food in a bear-proof container protects the food, but don't keep the container in the car if you're spending time in Yellowstone.

Bottled water or canned food stored in the car in extreme weather might not last long. Containers could burst in summer heat or freeze and break in winter. Keep a supply of bottled water near the car, where you can grab it quickly in an emergency.

Emergency clothing in a closed vehicle needs checking from time to time. Damp climates might nurture mold in your emergency supplies if you don't air them out regularly, and sunlight degrades fabric if you store your extra clothes in plain sight. In the winter, some fleece blankets or sleeping bags come in handy if you're stuck in snow for a few hours, waiting for the tow truck. Extra coats, watch caps, gloves and boots make good sense if you live in severe winter areas. Switch them out for jackets and rain gear in the summer.

Emergency gear should include the basics needed for simple car repairs. Duct tape could patch a perforated radiator hose temporarily, and stretch-activated epoxy plumbing tape makes a nearly permanent seal on either a plastic or metal surface. For a good temporary fix you'll need a way to clean the surface you're working on, so a spray can of degreaser and a roll of shop-quality paper towels helps. An assortment of hose clamps and a multi-bit screwdriver can handle other types of leakage. Stash a crescent wrench and a pair of long-nosed electrician's pliers, plus a socket set, in the trunk for minor electrical and mechanical difficulties. A portable air compressor saves the day when you find out your spare went flat in storage.

Keep an emergency knife with either one-handed manual opening or spring-assisted opening and a glass breaker pommel close at hand in the car. If you're in a wreck and doors are jammed, the glass breaker smashes the window glass for a quick exit. Seat belts usually release easily, but when you're hanging from them upside down the catches sometimes jam. An emergency knife cuts you loose even if you only have one arm free.

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