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Emergencies & Your Health

Planning ahead to protect ourselves in a disaster, including people who are medically vulnerable.

Get Ready to Leave Before You Have To Go

CalFire suggests doing these things in advance at the emergency warning stage  so you can leave quickly when an order to evacuate comes.

  • Make sure you know your community’s emergency response plan and have a plan on where to go when it is time to evacuate, and best routes for leaving your location.
  • Fill up the car's gas tank; make sure it is fully charged (if electric).
  • Shut all windows and doors. (In a fire evacuation, leave the doors unlocked; otherwise lock when you leave.)
  • Remove flammable window shades or lightweight curtains 
  • Move furniture to the center of the room, away from windows and doors, if possible
  • Shut off gas at the meter; turn off pilot lights.
  • Leave some lights on (visible from road) so emergency response team can see your house at night or under smoky conditions.
  • Shut off the air conditioning.
  • Load evacuation kits into car, and back it into the driveway (for a quicker getaway) with all doors and windows closed. Carry your car keys with you.
  • Check on neighbors and make sure they are preparing to leave.
  • Locate your pets and keep them nearby; prepare farm animals for transport and think about moving them to a safe location early.

For more advance preparation during fire warnings, see:

evacuation from Galveston in 2006

Locate Emergency Shelters in Advance

When an emergency warning has been announced, take a moment to locate the nearest public emergency shelter(s) - there might not be enough time to figure out where to go once an evacuation order is issued.

If your plan is to shelter at a friend or relative's home, it's still wise to locate the nearest emergency shelter in case the roads are too congested to get to your preferred location in time.

Besides locating the closest shelter(s), check the route needed to get there, and chart alternate paths in case roads are closed.

It can be useful to know what to expect at a public emergency shelter:

COVID adds complications for public emergency shelters. 

Stay Up to Date

Ideally, preparing for emergencies isn't something we do only once. It's important for emergency supplies to be regularly updated (batteries are fresh, food is still good) and that our information is current.

emergency preparedness kit

This calendar of monthly activities can make it easier to keep emergency supplies and preparedness skills up to date:

Make Evacuation Kits

The absolute essentials to take when we have to evacuate, according to CalFire's Wildfire Action Plan, are the 6 Ps:

Essentials for evacuation kits

(But these days, instead of packing up a computer hard drive and back-up disks, back up computers to a cloud service in advance. Bring a laptop or tablet if you have one - remember the cords and chargers! - for easier access to information and to your data.)

As mentioned, it is wise to include these in any evacuation kit:

  • Folder or envelope with copies of important documents - birth certificates, COVID vaccine certificates, marriage certificates, car registration and proof of insurance, title to your home or your rental agreement, contact numbers and account information for homeowner's or renter's insurance, identity documents, etc. - so in a worst case scenario, if all is lost you have the details your need to rebuild your life. Scanned copies in electronic format on a computer are useful, but having a paper backup could make a big difference in a disaster.
  • Ditto important medical records and irreplaceable items you just can't live without.
  • It's a very good idea to have a first-aid kit handy to care for injuries.
  • And pack face masks for everyone. Besides protecting against COVID (or flu or colds), a N-95 mask or equivalent will also protect against poor air quality.

If you have pets or larger animals to evacuate, you will need to include documents, food, crates or shelter, and other supplies for them as well.

CalFire's basic evacuation kit checklist:

Prepare - or make checklists for - different kinds of evacuation kits.

With advanced planning (and enough advance time), we can make the evacuation process much easier by preparing kit(s) ahead of time. Or at least assembling all the necessary ingredients for each type of kit, and making sure they all work, have not expired, have sufficient batteries, and so on.

There are different types of evacuation kits to have on-hand. There's a lot of overlap between the types of kits, so it makes sense to use customized checklists to quickly pull together necessary items depending on the situation

bug out kit or grab & go kit includes what will be needed for approx. 72 hours (3 days) and assumes that you will find shelter indoors (with family, a friend, or an emergency shelter in a community center or other public building).

survival kit should contain supplies for more than 3 days, and might include: tent or portable shelter, camping equipment, food and food storage, water purification and sanitation supplies, solar device chargers, battery-powered lights and radio, and animal supplies. These things will be needed if evacuating to a county fairground or similar open space.

car kit should include supplies to help you survive if stuck in a car without power for 24 hours (or longer), like warm hats / gloves /coats or thermal blankets, sufficient water, and emergency food; plus flares, reflective triangles, or other emergency rescue lights; and perhaps also battery-powered device chargers and/or radio. You can start with a basic car emergency kit obtained from automotive supply stores and add the rest.

These links suggest what to include in your evacuation kits, depending on your assessment of how long the evacuation might last and on where you can go. The other resources on these webpages also have recommendations for what to put in your evacuation kit. Customize your kit(s) to fit your family's needs. And don't forget a container for each kit, so once it is assembled, it's truly "grab and go".

Here's one example of a bug out kit or grab-&-go kit for an older adult:

Here's one version of an emergency kit for one week.

Besides the items shown here, if you have not arranged a safe place to evacuate to in advance, add blankets or sleeping bags, perhaps a tent and/or camping gear, as well as clothes and personal supplies for each person.

Create  evacuation kits for your animals, too.

The text on this page is copyright PlaneTree Health Library, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. Linked contents are the responsibility of their creators or copyright holders.