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Preparing to Evacuate Your Home in Case of an Emergency

Elizabeth B. Bolton, Muthusami Kumaran, and Angela B. Lindsey

It is always important to plan for the worst in case an emergency situation arises. For example, you and your family may be asked to leave your home due to some emergency situation in your community. Your local emergency officials will not ask you to leave your home or location unless there is a valid reason. Do not try and second-guess the validity of their request. Do as they say immediately. Most of the time these requests and related information will come through radio broadcast, local TV station, government websites, and social media. Different warning methods may be used such as a siren or telephone calls and text alerts.

Stay tuned and follow the directions and the evacuation routes recommended by the emergency officials. The most important thing to keep in mind is to have a plan for a possible evacuation. Be prepared to evacuate and keep the following suggestions in mind.

Know the Route and Follow Directions

Have a route mapped out before prior to an evacuation. Always keep a paper map on hand as cellular service may not be a reliable. Keep a map on hand that will enable you to take a route that may be unfamiliar to you. Be prepared to use routes specified by the emergency officials. Do not use any road or shortcut that they do not recommend. Some areas familiar to you may no longer be accessible or they may be dangerous for reasons unknown to you.

Be cautious when following GPS and phone apps as they may not be up-to-date with important information regarding evacuation. Follow the directions regarding evacuation routes.

Local Authorities Will Tell You What to Do

Stay up-to-date with information from local authorities through radio, television, social media, and/or websites. They are in touch with the state or federal authorities and will know which route to take and what local conditions might be. If you follow their instructions, you are more likely to arrive in a safe location and to be able to communicate with your family members or friends.

Keep Your Vehicle's Tank Filled

Stations may not be open during times of emergency. During power outages, fuel pumps at gas stations may not work.

In addition, lines for gas may be a very long and gas stations may run out of gas. Plan early for an evacuation and fill your vehicle early.

One Vehicle per Household

Plan to take one vehicle per household. This will keep family members together and reduce the number of cars on your particular evacuation route.

Power Lines

Do not go near power lines, especially if they are broken or down.


Wear clothing that protects you as much as possible. Even if it is not cold or hot during a particular time of year, wear clothing that protects you. Wear long sleeves and long pants. Wear sturdy shoes that would be suitable for walking, which you may or may not have to do. Take along a hat that can be used to shelter you from the sun.

Disaster Kit

Take your disaster kit with the supplies you will need. The kit will include items such as a battery powered radio, extra batteries, food, water, medications, and clothing. Plan for no less than three days.


Bring your cellular phone with necessary chargers. Be sure to bring back-up chargers and battery chargers.

Prepare Your Home before Leaving

  • Lock all doors and windows.
  • Turn off water. You should know how to use the tools needed to do this. These typically include an adjustable pipe and crescent wrench.
  • If you have food in a home freezer, your local officials will advise you as to whether or not to turn off the electricity.
  • Leave your natural gas on unless you are instructed to turn it off. You may need gas for heating or cooking and only a professional can turn it on once it has been turned off. In times of emergency, it may take days or weeks to get a professional to your home to turn on your gas once it has been turned off.

Family Communications

If you have time, call your family and friends. In any event, leave a note as to the route you are taking and your destination. Put your emergency communications plan into effect as follows.

  • Choose an out of town contact your family or household will call or e-mail to check on each other should a disaster occur. Your selected contact should live far enough away that they would be unlikely to be directly affected by the same event and they should know they are the chosen contact.
  • Make sure every household member has that contact's (and each other's) e-mail addresses and telephone numbers (cell, home, work). Leave these contact numbers at your workplace and your children's school (if you have children).
  • Your family should know that if telephones are not working, they need to be patient and try again later or try e-mail or social media messaging. Determine two or three social media platforms that your family will use if cell service is down. Many platforms utilize messaging and are key communication tools after disasters.

Emergency Shelters

Know in advance where the emergency shelters are located. If there is more than one in your vicinity, know all the locations. The steps you should take in preparing for shelter depends on the type of emergency situation. For example, during a tornado you should go to an underground room if it is available. During a chemical release, you should seek shelter in a room above ground.

Shelter in Place

If your emergency officials tell you to "shelter in place," this means that you should remain inside your home or office and protect yourself there.

  • Close and lock all windows and exterior doors.
  • Turn off all fans, heating and air conditioning systems.
  • Close the fireplace damper.
  • Get your disaster kit and make sure your radio is working.
  • Go to an interior room without windows that is above ground level. In the case of a chemical threat, an above-ground location is preferable because some chemicals are heavier than air and may seep into basements even if the windows are closed. Using duct tape, seal all cracks around the door and any vents into the room.
  • Keep listening to your radio or television until you are told all is safe or that you are to evacuate. The length of your stay can range from a few hours to two weeks. During this time, you should maintain a 24-hour communications and safety watch. Take turns with family in listening for radio broadcasts.
  • Watch for fires.
  • Assemble an emergency toilet, if necessary. Use a garbage container, pail, or bucket with a snug-fitting cover. If the container is small, use a larger container with a cover for waste disposal. Line both containers with plastic bags. After each use, pour or sprinkle a small amount of regular household disinfectant, such as chlorine bleach, into the container to reduce odor or germs.

Predetermined Meeting Place

Have a predetermined destination for meeting your family in the event you are separated from them. This will save time and anxiety as well as minimize the confusion if you are told to evacuate. Have some prior arrangements with friends or family who may provide temporary shelter in case of emergency. If you have pets, make plans for where they will be sheltered.

Children at School

Have a plan for who is to pick up the children from school or how they will be taken care of and by whom if they are not at home.

Animals and Pets

Have a plan for caring for animals in the event of an emergency evacuation.

Many shelters are pet friendly and have regulations regarding vaccination records and items that a pet can have from home. Be sure to have all pet supplies ready if you plan to shelter with your pet.

Other Sources of Information

Publication #FCS9194

Release Date:July 11th, 2019

Reviewed At:January 24th, 2023

Related Experts

Kumaran, Muthusami


University of Florida

Lindsey, Angela B.


University of Florida

Related Topics

Fact Sheet

About this Publication

This document is FCS9194, one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date June 2003. Revised February 2015 and June 2019. Visit the EDIS website at for the currently supported version of this publication.

About the Authors

Elizabeth Bolton, professor emeritus; Muthusami Kumaran, associate professor; and Angela B. Lindsey, assistant professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


  • Angela Lindsey
  • Muthusami Kumaran