Mass Evacuations: How To Flee a Disaster Area
Survival experts Les Stroud and Mykel Hawke offer tips on where to go, how to go and what to bring
Movies and TV shows about apocalypses and worldwide disasters are fun to watch, but a real-life disaster is both more likely and more frightening, especially if you need to evacuate in a hurry. (Remember Hurricane Rita in 2005? More than 3 million people in Texas and Louisiana were forced to flee the wrath in what became one of the largest evacuations in U.S. history.)
Would you know what to do if severe weather, terrorism or a pandemic prompted an evacuation in your area?
Survival experts Captain Mykel Hawke, a U.S. Army Special Forces Green Beret veteran and co-star of The Travel Channel series “Lost Survivors,” and Les Stroud, who hosts and produces the “Survivorman” TV series on Science Channel and Discovery, offer advice for how a typical American household should handle such an event, which may include a weakened government infrastructure, supply shortages and clogged or impassible evacuation routes.
1. Keep a “bug out bag” packed. This urban survival bag or backpack should contain three to seven days’ worth of essential supplies in the event you need to leave your home quickly.
2. Have a month’s supply of rations at home. While the Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends at least three days’ supply of food and water, it’s simply not enough, Hawke says. He suggests every household have at least a month’s supply of emergency rations in the event a family has to shelter in place. Supplies should include medical kits, water, dried foods or Ready-to-Eat meals, a compass, fire starting material, flashlights and clothing.
3. Choose your escape route and mode of transport wisely. In an evacuation involving millions, it may be wiser to flee on foot or bicycle than face the gridlock of a choked evacuation roadway, Hawke says
"You should have a walk-out plan,” he notes. “Decide the best direction to go. Most likely it's not to a city but to a farm house, lake house, mountain cabin, river or some area where you can provide off the land and live safely."
If you choose to walk, recognize that even on level, easy terrain, the typical family will only travel one or two miles per hour at best. “If you plan to walk to a national forest 100 miles away, that could easily be a two-week hike,” Hawke says. “Plan your route and plan for road crossings and river crossings along the way.”
If you choose to drive, travel light and bring a road and terrain map in case your GPS fails or can’t be recharged easily.
4. Have a meet-up and communications plan. Having designated points of contact outside of the region can help family members reunite. It’s also important to establish a way to communicate. Families can use CB (Citizen Band) radios or even hand-held two-way radios to communicate over short distances, notes Hawke.
5. Have equipment to help you navigate and signal for help. “A rechargeable hand-crank radio and a GPS can help you track which roads are safe or not,” Stroud says.
If you become stuck en route, you’ll want a way to signal for help. “Flares or tools like PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) and EPIRB (Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon) work well,” says Stroud.
6. Give everyone a job. Each traveler, with the exception of young children, needs to carry their own weight and add to the safety and security of the group, Hawke says. “Everyone should have jobs to do. Some can act as a perimeter alarm system for intruders, and even older people in wheelchairs can keep the fire going. Everyone can contribute, but they have to be factored into the plan.”