Last year, my aunt, uncle, and adult cousin monitored weather reports about Hurricane Irma. When the mandatory evacuation order was declared in their community in Florida, they complied. They boarded up their windows and took other steps to fortify their homes. They decided to evacuate together and packed up the car with important papers, medications, laptops, food and water, clothing, and other supplies. They drove inland for hours, updating us by text along the way. They ended up in West Virginia, where they stayed in a hotel for a few days. Once they received official notification that they could return, they drove back to Florida. They were very fortunate. Their homes had not sustained damage. My relatives’ story highlights an evacuation and emergency communication plan put into action. Our bulletin insert this week outlines steps and considerations of making an evacuation and emergency communications plan.
One of the key steps in creating an evacuation plan is knowing about the hazards that are most likely to affect your community and identifying how those hazards would likely impact your company. For example, a Nor’easter could mean storm surge, flooding, loss of power and wind damage for communities on the South Shore and North Shore. A blizzard could mean prolonged power outages in Western Massachusetts as well as extended time for snow removal and utility repair crews to reach all affected areas.
Being informed about what is happening during a disaster is really important. Some ways to stay informed are to monitor local television and radio news, use a weather alert radio that includes NOAA Weather Radio Alerts and information, sign up for emergency alerts through the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency “Massachusetts Alerts” app, and contact your local emergency manager to see how to receive alerts and emergency information specific to your town or city. More information about how to sign up for alerts is available at this link: https://www.mass.gov/service-details/be-informed-and-receive-emergency-alerts
When developing an evacuation and emergency communication plan, there are many things to include. Please be sure to set up a family meeting places: one inside your neighborhood, one outside your neighborhood. This meeting place can be used whatever hazard causes an evacuation: whether a fire or flooding. Be sure to map out alternate routes to leave from your home or work by car or public transportation. In your plan, make sure you identify and draw at least two ways to exit each room in your home. Include details about the evacuation plans for any family member’s school, child care facility, workplace, or nursing home. Make sure you clearly state who your out-of-town contact is. If you have pets in your family, identify hotels that take pets, ask your local animal shelter for recommendations, talk to friends and family outside your area
Finally, it is very important to practice your evacuation plans. Do evacuation drills on a regular basis. These drills should include practicing sending a group text to family or other communication methods. Be sure to include in your practice the scenario of needing to leave quickly due to a fire. One tip for evacuating quickly: if you use glasses, hearing aids, a walker or wheelchair or assistive devices, please keep them close to where you sleep.
Here are some tools and templates for creating an emergency evacuation and communication plan:
Family Communications Plan:
Commuter Emergency Plan:
Disaster preparedness for seniors by seniors:
For people with disabilities or access and function needs:
For parents and children:
For families with pets:
Lucy Costa is a recovery caseworker with the American Red Cross of Massachusetts. She has been a volunteer with the Red Cross since 2005 when she deployed to Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. She also is a longtime member of Old South Church in ...