Disaster Preparedness: Developing Evacuation or Shelter Plans (Part 3 in a series)

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This is the third in a series of articles on disaster preparedness and how to safeguard your community, save lives and minimize damage.


Some disasters, like hurricanes and floods, allow you to take action ahead of time to save lives and property.  Others, like tornadoes, earthquakes, and flash floods, need more immediate action. You should have plans for both.

When visiting your local emergency agency or the American Red Cross to find out about potential problems in your area, ask for assistance in evacuation and shelter planning.  They should be able to tell you what types of shelters are available in your area or which sites would be set up as shelters if a disaster occurs. These would include local schools, community centers, churches, offices or other buildings capable of holding a large number of people temporarily.

If there are children in your community, check with local schools to learn their evacuation and shelter plans. In the case of an emergency, parents will want to know where their children will be taken and other steps the schools have prepared for.  (If these preparations are not adequate, parents should get involved and make sure that such plans are in place.)  This information should be made available to residents in your community through the schools or through a community newsletter or education program.

Some manufactured home communities may have an office or community building that can be used as a shelter in case of an immediate emergency. In the case or tornadoes or severe storms, this should have a below-grade basement or some other underground area.  In other situations, such as floods or hurricanes, the community shelter will not provide maximum protection and designated shelters may e several miles away.

Make sure that your residents understand the difference between an immediate emergency and an evacuation.  For example, when a tornado warning has been issued, they must go to the shelter immediately.  If a hurricane warning is issued, an evacuation is in order.

A good evacuation plan is very important – all residents should be familiar with it and have practiced it.  To develop this plan, work with the residents’ committee. Start with a detailed plan of the community that shows all roads and all homes.  Then look at the following things:

  • How many entrances and exits are there in the community? Are they clearly marked?
  • If there is more than one exit, which sections of the community should use each exit?
  • In what order should each block or section leave? (Families near an exit should go first, as they will be the easiest and quickest to move.)
  • Is there a bottleneck that can be fixed, or are there barriers that could be removed in an emergency to make evacuation easier?
  • If an exit is blocked by the disaster, what other exits are available?
  • Are there residents who will not be able to evacuate themselves and who will require help from others?


When you have identified the answers to these questions, develop the evacuation plan accordingly. For each exit, assign blocks or sectors of the community that will use the exit.  Then give each resident a note about the exit they should use and the order in which they will leave.  For example, residents with a Number 1 designation should go first and be given a certain time period in which to do so.  Then Number 2, Number 3 and so on. Orderly evacuation is the goal.


Give residents of the community a copy of the evacuation plan for their neighborhood, a map of the community and surrounding areas, a list of potential shelters they can go to, and an alternate exit to use if they can’t use the exit they are supposed to use.

They should also be told what kind of notice they will get when evacuation is ordered.      If the community has a warning siren or other audio system, what does each signal mean?  Can every home in the community hear the signal?  Will there be a phone “chain”?

For most communities, it’s a good idea to have a primary warning system, such as a siren, and a back-up plan, such as a phone chain or door-to-door notification.

In a phone chain, Person A calls Person B through F. Persons B through F call five more people, and so on.  It is important to keep residents and their phone numbers up-to-date if the phone chain is going to work well.

Residents also need to practice the evacuation.  This is a program that is best run by your community’s Resident Disaster Planning Committee.

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