Evacuation 101: What to know if you’re forced to go

No one can predict when a catastrophic event could make it necessary to evacuate your home. Weather events, natural disasters, industrial accidents and other emergencies can cut off access to your home or make it temporarily uninhabitable.

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In most cases, you won’t have much, if any, time to prepare for such events—making it that much harder to get everyone to safety while also staying in contact with one another. Planning ahead now for what your family needs to do during an emergency can bring added peace of mind and help a potential relocation go more smoothly.

Your family’s evacuation and communication plan should take into account your unique lifestyle. Factors to consider:

  • Young children at home or older children away at school
  • Older relatives or those with medical issues that could affect their ability to travel or require additional supplies/equipment
  • Household staff you’d be responsible for
  • Pets or service animals
  • Secondary homes or business locations in other cities that make it likely one or more members of the household would be out of town at the time of an event
  • Valuable collections (art, antiques, jewelry, wine or cars) that would require special protection and/or transport.

Once you’ve assessed your family’s evacuation and communication needs, you’re in a better position to ensure everyone has the information they need to get to safety―and find each other once the crisis has passed. Use the following guide to create your own personalized checklists for emergency planning.

Plan necessities

No matter what your circumstances, there are some plans every family should have in place for an emergency.

First and foremost: everyone in the family should know designated places to meet if your home is no longer accessible and the family is not together when a crisis takes place. For example, you might want to designate the nearby home of a grandparent as the first place to meet, and a vacation home or secondary office as the next “shelter” if a larger area is affected by the emergency.

Also have an accessible list of required prescriptions for each family member, as well as contact information for extended family, business contacts and other people you may need to reach in an emergency. Ideally, you should have a hard copy of this information as well as a digital file stored somewhere in the cloud, so you can access it even if your own computer or mobile devices are inaccessible.

If you have kids

Talk to your children’s school so you know what their plans are if there’s an evacuation, and so that you have a clear “plan B” if kids are being sent home and yours is inaccessible. Get clarity on the school’s plan to communicate with parents, whether they have a shelter-in-place plan with food and water supplies, or where they plan to take the children if they won’t stay at the school. Also make arrangements for older children who could potentially be home alone but are too young to drive or don’t have their own vehicles. Infants and toddlers are likely to be with at least one parent or caregiver, but it’s a good idea to have an additional stockpile of supplies they may need such as formula, diapers, etc.

If you have elderly family members or those with medical issues

Older people or those with medical issues are likely to need more assistance during a crisis or serious event. Consider all of the communication touch points you might utilize to determine where added effort is needed for accessibility. For example, people who are hard of hearing may not be able to understand alerts broadcast over the media or by local authorities. Those who are visually impaired or have mobility issues may need some extra help leaving your home in the event of an evacuation. Local agencies such as Paratransit can help you set up a plan to take care of them if you or someone else isn’t there to do so. If medical equipment or assistive devices (including hearing aids, smart phones and tablets) require power, make sure you have either a portable generator or battery packs necessary to keep critical equipment functioning. Another consideration: Newer homes may be constructed as accessible or barrier free, but older homes might need a professional review to allow for “equal egress” during an emergency.

If you have household staff

Private staff or other workers who are frequently at your home should know what your family’s emergency and communication plan is―both for their own safety and so they can help implement it if need be. It’s not unthinkable that an older child and someone like the gardener could be the only people at home when a serious event happens. If any of your staff speak English as a second language, consider giving them a copy of the plan in their native language to ensure they know what needs to be done and how to reach you in the event of a crisis. Integrate emergency and communication plans into the overall estate management plan. Review the plan with staff (however informal their role) at least annually.

If you have pets or service animals

Pets and service animals are part of the family too, and among the least able to protect themselves in the event of an emergency. In addition to storing extra pet food and medical supplies, designate a safe place to board your animals (at your home or elsewhere) in case of an emergency. You’ll also want to make arrangements with a neighbor or friend who can check on the animal if you aren’t home when an event takes place.

If you have a secondary home

There’s no telling where you’ll be if a crisis happens, so prepare for all scenarios. When you finish creating your primary family emergency and communication plan, create a similar one to be used for your secondary home(s). Also consider steps to secure and check on a seasonal or secondary home if an emergency happens when no one is there. If you already use a management service, this should be something you can easily add into your current contract. If you don’t use a service, consider asking a trusted friend or family member who lives near the property to check on the home if you can’t.

If you own a business

If you run a business, you’ll need a similar emergency plan for your office and make sure that all employees know what those plans are as well as their own responsibilities for implementing them. Communicate with employees on-site or off and have a plan for what to do if employees can’t leave the building. Consult with your facility manager to ensure that your ventilation system has appropriate filters for pollutants and how to turn it off, if needed, during an emergency. You’ll also want to prepare a business continuity plan to keep things running if your office can’t be reopened for a considerable length of time.

If you have valuable collections

Some emergencies, particularly those tied to severe weather, can pose added risk to valuables such as fine art and wine. Others, like jewelry, need added protection from theft or looting but may not be easy to keep with you when evacuating. If you have prized collections, work with a related expert to assess appropriate transport or storage options.

Emergencies always come with a degree of chaos, and it can be scary to consider all of the possible scenarios. But well-designed plans to keep your family safe are always worth the effort.

Last updated: Friday, April 28, 2017

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