June is a busy time of year for emergency preparedness and response.
June marks the start of the Atlantic hurricane season. It’s also wildfire season.
Hurricanes and wildfires are common causes of evacuations. Both are happening more often and with greater intensity.(1) Annual increases in the number of strong hurricanes and large wildfires likely mean more people will face these threats.
In 2017, more than 8 million people across the country were affected by evacuation orders because of flooding, wildfires, and hurricanes. That includes an estimated 6.8 million residents of Florida who were under evacuation orders in response to Hurricane Irma. It was one of the largest mass evacuations in U.S. history.
Don’t get caught unprepared for an evacuation order. Learn what you can do now to prepare for evacuations and mitigate some of the stress of having to relocate.
Different communities plan for evacuations in different ways. It’s important to know the plans and procedures where you live.
Emergency planners in many states and localities subdivide their jurisdictions into numbered or lettered evacuation zones. The City of Ashland, Oregon, for example, is divided into 10 zones. City officials use numbered zones to manage evacuations.(2)
Residents of Ashland are encouraged to know their zone before an evacuation. The city set up an interactive evacuation map where residents can learn their zone by searching their addresses.
Contact your local public safety or emergency management agency to learn how decisions about evacuations are made where you live.
Find the emergency management agency for your state or territory using the free search tool on USA.gov.
It’s as important that you know what to do when you are notified to take protective action, such as evacuating. Ensure you have multiple ways to receive emergency alerts. They might include watching local television, listening to local radio, following trusted sources on social media, and signing up to receive emergency alerts by phone call or text.
Many local governments across the country—primarily in areas at high risk for wildfire—have adopted the Ready. Set. Go! (RSG) program. RSG was developed by the International Association of Fire Chiefs as a way to educate about wildland fire risk, promote wildfire preparedness, and communicate in plain language what to do in the event of a fire.
As the name suggests, there are three steps to RSG.
- Ready means be prepared. People are asked to gather emergency supplies, make an emergency action plan, sign up for emergency notifications, and stay informed of local hazards.
- Set is a warning to get organized because of significant danger in the area. People under “set” status should prepare to evacuate. They should pack “go kits” and consider relocating—voluntarily—to a safer location.
- Go! is the signal to evacuate immediately to a designated shelter or someplace in a safer area. Find out how you can protect yourself and others from COVID-19 when evacuating to a public shelter or the home of friends or family.
How ever your local officials communicate an evacuation, don’t hesitate to leave if given the order. Follow instructions on where to go and how to get there. Your normal route out of your neighborhood may not be the safest during an emergency.
Your emergency care plan is more than a list of names and phone numbers. It’s more accurate to think of it as a user guide for how to stay healthy, informed, and connected during an emergency.
An emergency action plan should include:
- phone numbers for your physician, pediatrician, pharmacist, counselor, and veterinarian.
- copies of current personal care plans (e.g., an asthma action plan, a food allergy and anaphylaxis care plan, and an emergency care plan for children and youth with special healthcare needs).
- a copy of the family reunification plans for your child’s school or daycare.(3)
To help you plan for an evacuation, your emergency action plan might also include a MyEvacuation Plan checklist. This evacuation planning tool guides you through actions you can take to prepare for an evacuation, such as:
- creating “go bags” for each member of your household.
- getting an emergency refill on your prescription medicines (if eligible and where available).
- finding a place where you and your pet can safely stay in an evacuation.
- having multiple ways to receive evacuation orders and instructions. You will likely get the order to evacuate from local police, fire, or other local officials on the radio, television, social media, and/or by text alert.
Visit the Prep Your Health website for more tips on how you can plan ahead for emergencies.
People experience disasters differently. Some are at higher risk of impacts because of their economic status, geography, disability status, etc.
The COVID-19 pandemic and other recent emergencies have brought inequities to the forefront of public health. State and local emergency planners must engage with their communities if they are to understand the conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play and their effects on emergency preparedness and response.
- People with lower incomes often live in places that lack the space to shelter in place or financial resources to evacuate.
- People with disabilities may be unable to evacuate on their own. The percentage of people living with disabilities is highest in the South.(5) This includes the hurricane-prone states of Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas.
- Some people may be unable to evacuate without help and less prepared to stay in their homes in the aftermath of a major disaster.
Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.
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