What’s Your Plan: Evacuate or Shelter In Place?

Published On: October 11th, 2019Categories: CoparentingTags: , , , , , , 9.8 min read
Evacuation Route Highway Sign

How do you decide whether you need to evacuate or shelter in place?

I’ve written about how to develop your emergency plan. Whether making sure your finances are in order or that you have your important documents organized in a grab and go binder, it’s important to think through how you’d handle an emergency.

And that includes developing a plan for where you’ll go if a disaster were to strike. Would you evacuate or shelter in place? If you evacuate, do you have an evacuation route in mind? Do you know what you’d take?

If you were to shelter in place, do you have the supplies you’d need?

How in the world do you decide what to do and get all this organized?

As my husband Craig and I have put together our emergency plans, I have taken notes so I can share with you everything you need to develop your own plans.

That includes free worksheets, lists, and tips that you can download from our Resource Library. Sign up here for access. Seriously, I’ve put together all that you need to make sure you’re prepared.

Emergency planning is not super fun to think about. But it’s is a really important exercise for Every. Single. Household. So I hope you’ll take it seriously, follow along, and develop your own plan. So let’s get going and look at when you should evacuate and when you should stay.

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When To Evacuate

Evacuations are actually not that uncommon. We hear about them most often during hurricane season, but people often have to evacuate due to floods, fires, and other types of bad storms. Sometimes evacuees have a couple of days of notice, sometimes a couple of hours or less.

But when there’s a storm or another event, how will you know whether you should evacuate or shelter in place?

The most important key to knowing when to leave is this: when your local officials are telling you there’s a mandatory evacuation, you need to go.

Otherwise, it’s up to your good judgment. How are the conditions? Does it look like there’s a big risk of trees falling on the house and trapping you (or worse)? Is there the potential for bad floodwaters?

You can’t always predict how a storm is going to turn out, so the best rule of thumb is to be alert to conditions and use good sense.

Don’t be the only one in your neighborhood who stays when everyone else is evacuating. But you also don’t need to evacuate for every storm. Pay attention to the news, listen to local officials, and use your judgment.

If you decide you’re going to evacuate, you’ll then need to decide where to go. You can stay with family or friends across or out of town, you can look for a hotel room or some kind of temporary lodging, or you can seek emergency shelter.

What To Pack


It’s important to figure out in advance what you’re going to take with you if you have to evacuate.

If you have to evacuate, packing can be a challenge. Especially as you consider the possibility you might come home to a house that’s been totally destroyed.

Don’t think that way. Try not to let the worst-case scenarios freak you out. Be practical about the situation.

My suggestion is to, in advance, develop a priority list of things you will want to have with you and things you’ll want to make sure are saved.

You’re in luck because I’ve put together a worksheet you can use to compile your list. You can access it in our Resource Library. (and if you need the password to the library, click here)

Keep the list someplace safe (and that you’ll remember – like in your grab and go binder!) and pull it out if and when the time comes to evacuate.

High Priority

These are the few “must-have” items you grab if you only have minutes to pack. The things that you will need if you can’t have anything else.

  • A “Go Bag” – This is a backpack that has some supplies in it that you can use as needed until you get where you’re going. It might include a small first aid kit, a couple of bottles of water, some protein bars or other snacks, and foil blankets. You might include a small, quick-dry towel and a change of clothes and underwear. (Amazon has a lot of pre-assembled backpacks that range in price)
  • Money – I’ve mentioned my “prepper pouch” to you before. But for real, if you have to leave in a hurry, having access to some small bills may be helpful.
  • Your Grab and Go Binder – I walked you through how to prepare this in a previous post. This binder will have copies of all of your important documents. And will be critical for you to take with you if you have to leave.
  • Medication – Bring along any medication that is necessary for family members.
  • Pets – I know this is a “must-have” list. It may not be true for everyone, but my pets are must-have for me and I would never leave them behind. But before you head to a shelter with your pets, check to see what their rules are. Many public shelters do not allow pets.

Medium Priority

These are the items you might want to bring should you have more than a few minutes to pack before you go. And are only limited by the time you have to prepare, the amount of space in your car, or the number of bags you’re taking.

Now, let me be clear: this does NOT mean I’m saying pack your car to the gills if you’re leaving. Just think about the things that you would want to have with you if you have a couple of hours to pack.

Medium priority items could include things like:

  • The few photos that are most important to you.
  • Multiple days’ worth of clothing and underwear
  • Toiletries
  • Pet supplies
  • Additional food and water
  • Your most valuable jewelry

As I’ve said, you should put together a list of these items in advance and keep that in your Grab and Go Binder. You don’t want to spend precious packing time wandering through your house taking a spur of the moment inventory of what you want with you.

Low Priority

overflowing suitcase

If you have room to take them, pack a couple of suitcases – but only if you have room and the time to do so.

These are the things that are nice to pack if you have the time to prepare and the space to take, but that you’re willing to leave behind if time is of the essence.

  • Artwork
  • All jewelry
  • A suitcase of clothes
  • Photo albums
  • Select pieces of valuable fine china, silver, crystal, or other memorabilia

Where To Go

The Department of Homeland Security’s site, Ready.gov provides this guidance for determining where to go when you evacuate:

  • Identify several places you could go in an emergency such as a friend’s home in another town or a hotel. Choose destinations in different directions so that you have options during an emergency.
  • If needed, identify a place to stay that will accept pets. Most public shelters allow only service animals.
  • Be familiar with alternate routes and other means of transportation out of your area.
  • Always follow the instructions of local officials and remember that your evacuation route may be on foot depending on the type of disaster.

When To Shelter In Place

Should you evacuate or shelter in place? Cars Driving in snowstorm

If the roads are dangerous, don’t chance it. Make preparations to stay at home until conditions improve!

Deciding to shelter in place really depends on what type of emergency it is. But what exactly does “shelter in place” mean?

The Center for Disease Control has a guide that will help you figure out when you should stay in place versus evacuate.

FEMA also provides information on sealing off rooms if that becomes necessary when you’re sheltering in place.

Every few years, we in the DC-area will have a big snowstorm. There have been a number of times where the roads have been so bad that the federal government has closed and officials have urged residents to stay home.

Those are generally times that there will be a few brave souls (or foolhardy, depending on how you see it) who attempt to drive around, business as usual. But by and large, most folks follow directions. I urge you to be the follow-directions type!!

Frankly, it’s nice to have a snow day (or three) once in a while. Putting chili on the stove, catching up on the DVR, and making snow angels can make for a lovely day.

When you’re prepared. And assuming you have power.

If you haven’t stocked up on supplies or prepared in advance, however, a few days at home could be miserable. Especially if you lose power. So – when you determine that it’s appropriate to stay at home, what do you need?

What To Have On Hand

You’ll want to keep enough supplies to last about 72 hours. If you know a storm is coming and have time to prepare, don’t wait to get to the grocery or hardware store. The longer you wait, the more likely it will be that the shelves will be cleaned out.

Sheltering in place during a storm can be fun if you’re not in a danger zone and if you’re prepared. If you know your family enjoys a special meal or dessert, buy the ingredients before you’re stuck at home.

Because I like to be prepared, I keep basic supplies on hand pretty much at all times. In case you’d like to print a reference list, I’ve put a great list in the Resource Library, which you can get access to here.

Maintaining And Storing Your Supplies

Whether you’re going to evacuate or shelter at home, make sure your supplies are always ready when needed. This means keeping tabs on expiration dates and making sure you assess your family’s needs on an annual basis.

You should also make sure to keep canned or boxed food in a cool, dry place. And make sure to replace expired items as needed.

Prepare Your Car and Office

Also – we’ve spent most of this post discussing getting ready to evacuate or shelter at home. But you don’t know where you’ll be when an emergency might occur. So you should consider putting some supplies together for not just your home, but also your car and your office.

These supplies should be easy to prepare and can be pulled together at the same time you’re gathering supplies for home.

For your office, just put together enough to shelter in place for 24 hours. This could include some protein bars, water, comfortable walking shoes. All stored in a bag or box that’s easy to take with you.

For your car, just make sure you always have a few of these emergency supplies in your trunk in case you’re stranded.

You should absolutely keep a first aid kit in both your office and your car. Amazon has a ton of options and there are several that are under $20.

I hope this post has been helpful as you decide whether you’ll evacuate or shelter in place in an emergency. Do you have any tips that I haven’t mentioned? Please comment below, I’d love to hear from you!





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