Meditations on evacuations

Well, it’s getting to be that time of year again. Hurricanes (if a hurricane is given a male name, does it become a himicane?), forest fires and floodings galore.

Speaking from a law enforcement perspective, I wish folks who might have to evacuate an area would have some kind of plan in place before it’s needed, rather than winging it while palm trees sail past your ears.

Folks, it is a fact of life: during a large-scale evacuation people are going to get separated and lost. You can not avoid it.

Another fact of life: during a large-scale evacuation, I, and every other public safety employee, will have more on our plates than we can handle as it is. Us finding your lost kith and kin is probably not going to happen: you are going to have to do it.

Let me repeat that for the liberals: During an evacuation I won’t have the time, I won’t have the resources, and I won’t have the capability to locate your missing.

Welcome to the Real World, you are On Your Own and we’ll see what we can do when things settle down.

This becomes particularly important if you are part of a large, or extended, family which may or may not be evacuating at the same time.

First off, have a place to evacuate to, and I’ll tell you right now that ‘away’ is an unacceptable destination.

I would strongly suggest that your destination point not be involved in any way with any kind of government disaster strategy. While going to a government shelter may sound like a good idea — if you’re totally and completely gormless — be advised that any government emergency shelter will probably have some utterly bloody stupid rules. No pets. No guns. Required donation of any foodstuffs. No leaving at will. That kind of thing.

Totally unacceptable.

So. You have decided upon a destination in the advent of an evacuation. Now, kindly be sure that everyone involved knows where you’re supposed to go. This sounds simplistic, but nobody should ever have to ask the question, “Does (Insert Name Here) know we’re going to (Insert Destination Here)?” followed by the famous reply, “Uhhh…I don’t know.”

Tell everyone, and then tell them again. You may even want to write it down and stick it to any available fridge doors belonging to the people whom you have told.


Don’t count on comm lines being open to allow you to contact your destination people 10 minutes before you depart. And, while I’m sure that they’re going to be delighted to put you up for a weekend (in Katrina days that could be years), common courtesy demands that they have some kind of warning that y’all might be on the way.

Now. Drive the route, and while you’re doing so, look around you and imagine it occupied by how-ever-many thousand people are in your city/county/metropolitan area — all with evacuation in mind, but unprepared and panic-prone.

Those overpasses. Can you get around them if they’re blocked? Same with any bridges — how will you get around them if they’re rendered unpassable? Secondary routes?

Secondary routes get interesting, because of the next thing I’m going to seriously suggest you do: Put a box of gallon-sized Ziplock bags, a box of 3X5 cards and two or three waterproof markers in everyones evac kit.

Rally Points. Also called Rendezvous Point, Check Points, Way Points or any other number of names. I want you to take a good hairy eyeball at the route between Here and There. At normal speed, under normal conditions, I want y’all to find easily seen, easily accesible (but out-of-the-way) spots no more than an hour apart on the route.

Stress to each family member that if — for whatever reason — they can’t continue to evac on their own and have to stop, that they are to only stop at a Rally Point. Read that part over again.

If you’re in a congested area, you might give consideration to locating these spots a normal half-hour apart, instead of an hour. If you’re in wide-open rural areas, you may want to extend the spacing to two or even three hours each. Up to you, really.

Again, you make sure that everyone knows where the Rally Points are.

The way the Rally Point System works is simple. Let us imagine that you are part of an extended family and Mother Nature has decided to open a can of whoop-arse on your home turf. Your extended family is smarter than some, and y’all promptly get into the wind.

The first person, or group, to get to the first Rally Point takes a 3×5 card, writes down the date and time in waterproof marker, along with the name (Very Important, don’t forget this) of each person in the group and a description of the vehicle(s) they’re in.

This goes into a Ziplock bag and it is put somewhere at the Rally Point that a stranger isn’t likely to glom onto it and use it for a notepad or bog paper. Since you have wisely located each Rally Point just-a-bit-off-the-path, this shouldn’t be too hard.

The first party then continues on, doing the same at each Rally Point until they are forced to stop (at a Rally Point) or they get to the destination. Each following person or group fills out their own 3×5 card at each Rally Point and adds it to the Ziplock bag.

“But, LawDog,” I hear you say, “This seems like an awful lot of trouble.”

You are correct. It is an awful lot of trouble. If you’re planning on skiting out on your own, or with just enough people to fit in one or two cars, then Rally Points aren’t for you.

However if you have a large number of family (that you care about) and/or friends (that you care about) who may not be evacuating at the same time, or from the same place, you need to consider something like this.

So. Here we have the Frickert Clan and associated friends. They have evacuated New Orleans their home town, and a nose-count at the destination shows that all are accounted for, excepting only Grandpa, Grandma, Ms. Emily and the triplets.

X-number of knuckle-dragging monsters are picked, they jump into a jeep and head back along the evac route, while the rest of the Frickert Clan is firmly ordered to remain at the destination point and not to expand the problem any further by haring off.

The knuckle-draggers check each Rally Point in reverse order, and when they find the one where Grandma and Grandpa last signed in, they have a firm known last location, and they know that Grandma and Grandpa are in the 1977 Dodge Dart — blue in colour.

This allows them to carefully check downstream from that Rally Point and locate Grandma and Grandpa high-centred in the bar-ditch, pull them out and send them on the way with a knuckle-dragger to do the rest of the driving.

Continuing along the evac route, the rescue crew discovers that the stress of the disaster, plus dealing with three-month old triplets, is sending Emily into shock.

Fortunately, she remembered that if she couldn’t get any further she was to head for a Rally Point and stay there. With that goal to keep panic at bay, Emily has managed to get to a Rally Point, and it’s only a matter of time before the knuckle-draggers show up — no muss, no fuss, no extended searches — Emily gets reassured, a cooler head does the driving, and everyone in the Frickert Clan is safe.

Something to think about, folks.


Great Googly-Moogly
Qana comments

20 thoughts on “Meditations on evacuations”

  1. Excellent post, Lawdog. I have to admit, the ONLY advantage I can think of (off the top of my head) to living in central MA is the lack of natural disasters requiring evacuation – blizzards are easily survivable with a little forethought and usually do NOT require evacuation.

  2. Our plan’s been in place since the missus saw the WTC on fire. I really wish we lived in a place that was less crowded and had better mobility, though. Trying to cross a skinny little bridge when eight million panic-stricken suburbatronic units are doing the same doesn’t sound like a winning strategy. Hunkering down is our best option in almost every scenario I can think of, and the ones where it isn’t generally aren’t survivable anyway.

  3. Plans are in place, preps are ongoing, and the ‘cousins’ know we’re coming, if it comes down to a bug-out!

  4. Last year for Rita I found an ‘I hate highways’ route for my brother and his wife to get from Houston to Dallas (actually a suburb SW of Houston). He flew their plane and provided ‘high cover’ for her in the car. She only hit two snags and both were where she crossed an ‘official’ route. He was even able to spot an open and (relatively) uncrowded gas station for her around the half-way point. Still took her about twice as long going there as it did to get home, but it showed how much faster / safer / better it is to avoid the ‘main’ routes.

    Both our vehicles have in-car navigation that can be set to avoid highways.

    Like the Rally Point idea – I’ll have to pass that one along (well, probably just a pointer to this post).

  5. I would say everyone should also make sure they have enough water for the trip. The route we took during Rita is a three hour drive most times… it was a sixteen hour drive during the evacuation. It was my husband and myself, a cockatiel, two cats, and four dogs. It could be hours before you see a store to pull in at, and once you get there it’s probably closed. Thankfully, my husband planned ahead for that and we didn’t have to learn it the hard way.

    Also, you may want to have some means of using the bathroom within the privacy of your vehichle. If you’re stopped in bumper to bumper traffic for hours, no restroom in sight, and you don’t want to get out because you don’t know when traffic will move again… well, when ya gotta go, ya gotta go.

  6. Thanks Lawdog. Good idea. However, as we are about 2-2.5 hrs N of you in OK, do you have any ideas for us in tornadoland?

  7. God bless you, LawDog! I’m forwarding this to my parents (who are utterly unprepared 30 miles inland of Charleston, SC) and my brother (also utterly inprepared IN Charleston, SC).

    You’re much easier reading than anything on ready-dot-gov. Maybe they’ll pay attention … for a change.

  8. Good advice brother. I tried to link to this post, I haven’t broken the code on that yet.

  9. Living in the foothills of the Smokies, with family in Charleston and southern Florida, I’m the designated destination. Yes, please let your planned destination know ahead of time, and clue them in. A head count, and any required medical or dietary needs would be very useful information, for example.
    And hey, if you show up unannounced with 14 uninvited friends for the week, expect some harsh words!

  10. Excellent post, especially for people in the more mainstream/suburban areas of the country. My question is this… What suggestions do you have for the masses living in crowded northeastern metropolises where often “alternate routes” aren’t such an option? There are only a certain number of routes into/out of Manhattan. DC isn’t much better. In overpopulated cities like this, where so many people rely on public transportation and don’t even own cars, what do you suggest for getting the hell out of Dodge?

  11. I to say that is an excellent post. I’ve never had to evacuate but what you say is the truth. So many people expect the ‘guberment’ to save their harry hinnie, right then, right there!

    And yes, depend on yourself, just as the people who first came to this land did!

  12. I’ve spent all my life living near or on a South Jersey barrier island, and learned at an early age why they call them that. I couldn’t fathom not having at least two get out of dodge routes and safe haven well in land for me my family, dogs and guns.
    Every six months or so we go thru the Hurricane boxes and replace expired food and dead batteries. First inklink of anything more then a glancing pass I’m outta here.

  13. LD, some practical detail questions.

    What kinds of places make good Rally Points? I get the idea that they need to be more or less evenly spaced along the route and that everybody needs to know where they are and have access to them. I’d guess that they shouldn’t be REAL obvious to outsiders – not stapled to the rest stop ads board. How about “under a rock by the northwest leg of the watertower at mile marker 364”?

    Some strategies for choosing appropriate places would be appreciated. Also, any sources for PRACTICAL bug out bag lists? Something grounded in the real world, not post end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it.

  14. Karla,

    Believe it or not these folks – – do real, quality disaster stuff. They just follow the same philosophy I’ve been espousing for years that, if you’re ready for zombies then you’re ready for pretty much anything else.

  15. From my experience during and after Rita, I can only tell you that it is probably more pleasant and less terrifying to stay at home during a category 3 hurricane than evacuating.

  16. Great post, Dog. Think I’ll link to it if y’all don’t mind. Family and friends are scattered hither and yon some in hurricane zones and others in earthquake country. They just may find it useful.

  17. After the 1989 earthquake in California, my parents kept the camping gear and supplies in a shed/shack in the backyard instead on inside the house. I suppose it was to keep eveything in one spot as well as to protect it in case the house collapsed.

    (Of course, this may not be good for hurricanes if the winds can blow the structure over or away.)

  18. wouldn’t mind a bit if you’ld check your definition on ‘liberal’.. cause last I heard it meant tolerant.

    which can equally include conservative.. not a darn thing REQUIRES liberals to change anything, mostly they don’t want to be told what to do. *CLAIMING* to be ‘liberal’.. and then using that as an excuse for taxation, repression, and central government control is FASCISM. .. I can CLAIM to be a fireman, but if i pour kerosine across your front porch, i bet you don’t believe me very LONG.

    That’s about how i feel to hear liberals insulted. Just cause one, or a hundred, or ten thousand liars claim Christianity to cover their crimes, doesn’t make Christians criminals.. nor does the fact a BUNCH of fascists claim to be liberals make tolerance unsavory.

    Heck, I heard that the administration that had done more damage to the deficit than any other was claiming to be conservative. I KNOW better.. ..

  19. ” In overpopulated cities like this, where so many people rely on public transportation and don’t even own cars, what do you suggest for getting the hell out of Dodge?”

    Be prepared to evacuate and GET OUT before the “official order.” If you wait until the government tells you to get out, you won’t. You’ll just be stuck in the gridlock.

    Me, I’ll just stay in my small inland town. Occasional tornado. Last earthquake that did damage was over a hundred years ago and the damage was over a hundred miles away. It did knock some bricks out of chimneys around here.

    Most people who are bound and determined to maintain residence in an urban area that is vulnerable to a major disaster might be better served by assessing how to survive that scenario without evacuating. The only way to be sure of evacuation from a major urban area is to leave early. This will inevitably entail evacuations that turn out to be unnecessary. But waiting until it is obviously necessary means waiting until everyone else is evacuating with you. That won’t be very much fun.

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