Stay or Leave: When to Evacuate During a Disaster

Jul 30 2013

Before or during a natural disaster it can be hard to determine whether or not you should remain to ride out the storm or evacuate the area. The only disasters where you have the luxury of this decision are tornadoes, hurricanes, and maybe some floods. Most others strike with little to no warning–forcing you to ride them out. Disasters that come with a warning or alert can often force a choice to remain at home or evacuate the area until the storm subsides. In instances of hurricanes, which are often tracked for weeks before hitting shore, the decision becomes one of making an early evacuation across state or riding out the storm. Since hurricanes are a yearly occurrence in some parts, many people simply remain at home and prepare their homes for the storm. Storms that strike and dissipate in a matter of minutes, like tornadoes, are less likely to provoke a full evacuation. Still, it is worthwhile to consider when to stay and when to leave.

Know When to Go

The most important part in deciding when to remain at home and when to evacuate is monitoring the weather forecast and storm warnings and alerts. If you have enough advanced warning regarding an approaching storm, you can evaluate whether or not it is beneficial to remain or evacuate. Hurricanes are of particular concern since they can build and last weeks. Many people choose to evacuate the area during a hurricane since there are consistent high winds and heavy rains that affect an area for a prolonged period.

For disasters like tornadoes and floods, it is often less work to mobilize and remain in place than evacuate entirely. Tornadoes often last only minutes and can wreak damage on one area while completely missing another. Sometimes the only effect a tornado will have on your property is scattering debris around or knocking out a few windows. In most cases, evacuation during a tornado is unnecessary and unrealistic since the last place you want to be caught in severe winds is in your car. Getting out of the county may be the best option during a tornado, but this is only viable if you are anticipating a storm to touch down near your home and can get out in time.

Total abandonment of your residence during a storm is typically a worst-case scenario type of action. If your personal safety is at risk, an evacuation may be necessary, but in some instances you may be better off staying put to remain available to respond to the aftermath of the disaster at home. The risk involved in fleeing an area mid-storm can often put you in more jeopardy than remaining and seeking shelter. The decision to stay or leave should come down to the overall threat to personal safety. If your life is in danger and you can get out, do so. Sometimes, however, remaining to secure your home and valuable may be a better decision. You will be able to begin the cleanup process sooner anyway.

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