Stay or Evacuate ?

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When disaster strikes your first important decision is if to stay and wait for help or to evacuate the place and look for help in a safer place.

You must use common sense and available information, including what you have read at the other links in this site, to determine if there is an immediate danger at the place you are. Immediate dangers are for example water flooding in, fire, risk of collapse or your building or buildings close to your building, threatening electrical live wires in movement, smoke or toxic vapours leaking in, if your building or shelter is in the path of a tsunami, earthquake, flood, fire, toxic spill, lava stream, military/militant aggression or other expected dangers.

In any emergency, local authorities may or may not immediately be able to provide information on what is happening and what you should do. However, you should, when able, watch TV, listen to the radio or check the Internet often for information or official instruction as it becomes available. Be also alert to instructions provided by the authorities and first responders by megaphones.

If you decide to evacuate, you may simply evacuate to another safer area in your building or to abandon the area depending on the dangers existing or approaching. If no immediate danger is present your chances of getting help are often better staying at your place if it offers the necessary shelter and safety. After some time, usually 3-5 days lack or limited availability of safe drinking water or lack of food may start to be counted as immediate danger.

Sheltering in place or finding a suitable shelter must follow some important conditions:

There may be situations, depending on your circumstances and the nature of the disaster, when it's simply best to stay where you are and avoid any uncertainty outside by “sheltering in place. In some situations you may not be able to abandon the place you are when disaster strikes because the conditions outside are more dangerous than inside or because you become isolated by diverse factors.

The length of time you are required to shelter may be short, such as during a tornado warning, or long, such as during a winter storm or a pandemic. It is important that you stay in shelter until local authorities or emergency workers say it is safe to leave. Additionally, you should take turns listening to radio broadcasts and maintain a 24-hour safety watch.

Taking appropriate shelter is critical when disaster strikes. You may seek protection in your home, place of employment or other location when disaster strikes. Sheltering outside the hazard area could include staying with friends and relatives, seeking commercial lodging or staying in a mass care facility operated by disaster relief groups.

The safest locations to seek shelter vary by hazard. To effectively shelter, you must first consider the hazard and then choose a place in your home or other building that is safe for that hazard. For example, for a tornado, a room should be selected that is in a basement or an interior room on the lowest level away from corners, windows, doors and outside walls. In a flood you must look for the highest areas

There may be circumstances when it will be a matter of survival to create a barrier between yourself and potentially contaminated air outside, a process known as "sealing". Use common sense and available information to assess the situation and determine if there is immediate danger. If you see large amounts of debris in the air, or if local authorities and emergency workers say the air is badly contaminated, you may want to take this kind of action:

1. Bring your family and pets inside.
2. Lock doors, close windows, air vents and fireplaces.
3. Turn off fans, air conditioning and forced air heating systems.
4. Take your emergency supply kit or your food and drink unless you have reason to believe it has been contaminated.
5. Go into an interior room with few windows, if possible.
6. Seal all windows, doors and air vents with 2-4 mil. thick plastic sheeting and duct tape. Consider measuring and cutting the sheeting in advance to save time.
7. Cut the plastic sheeting several inches wider than the openings and label each sheet.
8. Duct tape plastic at corners first and then tape down all edges.
9. Be prepared to improvise and use what you have on hand to seal gaps so that you create a barrier between yourself and any contamination.
10.Local authorities may not immediately be able to provide information on what is happening and what you should do. However, you should, when able, watch TV, listen to the radio or check the Internet often for official news and instructions as they become available.


During extended periods of sheltering, you will need to manage water and food supplies to ensure you and your family have the required supplies and quantities.
If you have used all of your stored water and there are no other reliable clean water sources, it may become necessary in an emergency situation to treat water from unclean sources before using it for drinking, food washing or preparation, washing dishes, brushing teeth or making ice. In addition to having a bad odour and taste, contaminated water can contain microorganisms (germs) that cause diseases and debilitate.

Safe Alternative Sources of Water in Emergencies

+ Melted ice cubes.
+ Liquids from canned fruit or vegetables.
+ Water drained from pipes. To use the water in your pipes, let air into the plumbing by turning on the faucet placed at the highest point in your home. A small amount of water will trickle out. Then get water from the faucet placed at the lowest point in the home.
+ Water drained from the water heater. Be sure that the electricity or gas is off, then open the drain at the bottom of the tank. Start the water flowing by turning off the water intake valve at the tank and turning on the hot-water faucet. Keep in mind that after you are notified that clean water has been restored, you will need to refill the tank before turning the gas or electricity back on. If the gas is turned off, a professional will be needed to turn it back on.

Unsafe Sources of Water to be Avoided

- Hot water radiators or boilers (home heating systems).
- Water from the toilet bowl or flush tank.
- Water beds. These may have fungicides or chemicals in the vinyl which may make water unsafe to use.
- Swimming pools and spas. Chemicals used to kill germs are too concentrated for safe drinking but can be used for personal hygiene, cleaning and related uses.

The best method to treat water in emergencies is distillation. Before treating, let any suspended particles settle to the bottom or strain them through coffee filters or layers of clean cloth. Distillation involves boiling water and then collection of only the vapour that condenses. To distil, fill a pot halfway with water. Tie a cup short to the handle on the pot’s lid so that the cup will hang open-side-up when the lid is placed on the pot upside-down (make sure the cup is not inside the water) and boil the water for 20 minutes. The water that drips from the lid into the cup is distilled and clean of impurities.

How to manage your water is very important

Allow people to drink according to their individual needs but not their individual wish. Many people need even more than the average of one gallon (4L) per day. The individual amount needed depends on age, physical activity, physical condition and time of year. Ration your water only if so instructed by the authorities or emergency workers or if you anticipate that the normal supply of water will not be restored shortly.

Under no circumstances should a person drink less than one quart (four cups) of water each day. You can minimize the amount of water your body needs by reducing activity and staying cool. Water from suspicious sources or not clear must be treated as described above. If that is not possible at least boil the water although you will not obtain full healthy water in this way. If water treatment is not possible, put off drinking suspicious water as long as possible, but do not become dehydrated.

Do not drink carbonated beverages instead of drinking water, those will dehydrate your body faster. Carbonated beverages do not meet drinking-water requirements. Caffeinated drinks and alcohol dehydrate the body, which increases the need for drinking water.

Turn off the main water valves. You will need to protect the water sources already in your home from contamination if you hear reports of broken water or sewage lines or if local officials advise you of a problem. To close the incoming water source, locate the incoming valve and turn it to the closed position. Be sure you and your family members know how to perform this important procedure.

How to manage your food is also important

One of the first things to do after securing your place and collecting drinking water is to collect food supplies. If you will evacuate looking for a safer place and you have time without endangering yourself, put together some food and drink as well, you don't know if or when you will find these available. Even if you plan to go to mass care shelters which often provide water, food, medicine and basic sanitary facilities, you should plan to take your disaster supplies kit with you so you will have the supplies you require. Follow some basic conditions:

1. Store at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food.
2. Choose foods you or your family will eat.
3. Remember any special dietary needs.
4. Avoid foods that will make you thirsty.
5. Choose salt-free crackers, whole grain cereals and canned foods with high liquid content.
6. Following a disaster, there may be power outages that could last for several days. Stock canned foods, dry mixes and other staples that do not require refrigeration, cooking, water or special preparation. Be sure to include a manual can opener and eating utensils.
7. Place all in a compact and easy to carry waterproof carry-on bag if you can.

Some items are good choices

+ Ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits, vegetables and a can opener
+ Protein or fruit bars
+ Dry cereal or granola
+ Peanut butter
+ Dried fruit
+ Nuts
+ Crackers without salt
+ Canned juices
+ Non-perishable pasteurized milk
+ High energy foods
+ Vitamins
+ Food for infants if having one
+ Comfort/stress foods


1. Keep food in covered containers.
2. Keep cooking and eating utensils clean.
3. Keep garbage in closed containers and dispose outside, burying garbage if necessary.
4. Keep your hands clean by washing them frequently with soap and water that has been boiled or disinfected.
5. Use ready-to-feed formula, if possible, for formula-fed infants. If using ready-to-feed formula is not possible, it is best to use bottled water to prepare powdered or concentrated formula. If bottled water is not available, use boiled water. Use treated water to prepare formula only if you do not have bottled or boiled water. Breastfed infants should continue breastfeeding.
6. Thawed food usually can be eaten if it is still “refrigerator cold.” It can be re-frozen if it still contains ice crystals.


- Eat foods from cans that are swollen, dented or corroded, even though the product may look safe to eat.
- Eat any food that looks or smells abnormal, even if the can looks normal.
- Eat any food that has come into contact with contaminated floodwater.
- Eat any food that has been at room temperature for two hours or more.
- East any food that has an unusual odour, colour or texture.
- Let garbage accumulate inside, both for fire and sanitation reasons.
- To be safe, remember, “When in doubt, throw it out.”


If you are going to a collective shelter

Collective care sheltering can involve living with many people in a confined space, which can be difficult and unpleasant. To avoid conflicts in the stressful situation, it is important to cooperate with shelter managers and others assisting them. Keep in mind that alcoholic beverages and weapons are forbidden in emergency shelters and smoking is restricted. To carry with you a small water and food supply can make it easier on you and your family. Consider that only service animals may be permitted in public shelters.

If you need to evacuate

In some circumstances, authorities or emergency responders evaluate that the hazards are serious and require mandatory evacuations. In others, evacuations are advised or households decide to evacuate to avoid situations they believe are potentially dangerous. When community evacuations become necessary the authorities or emergency personnel provide information to the public through the media or public speakers and megaphones. In some circumstances, other warning methods, such as sirens, text alerts, emails or telephone calls are used.

The amount of time you have to leave will depend on the hazard. If the event is a weather condition, such as a hurricane, you might have a day or two to get ready. However, many disasters allow no time for people to gather even the most basic necessities, which is why planning ahead is essential.

Plan how you will assemble your family and supplies and anticipate where you will go for different situations. Choose several destinations in different directions so you have options in an emergency and know the evacuation routes to get to those destinations.

If you decide to evacuate in your own because of immediate danger, always evaluate if it is safer to confront outside conditions or to stay in place. If deciding to look for new shelter or leaving the area, stay calm and plan well the direction and final destination of your escape taking in consideration that higher ground is best in the majority of cases, unless severe weather as tornadoes or hurricanes make lower ground and if possible underground the best choice. Always assemble a kit of emergency medical supplies, food and water for at least three days to carry in a compact and easy to carry bag (waterproof is possible). If several persons are evacuating together, it makes sense to distribute the weight. Choose more than one destination in order of preference and alternative routes. Wear sturdy shoes and clothing that provides some protection such as long pants, long-sleeved shirts, a cap and a jacket with as many pockets as possible.

If you will use a car, use one car only for all the family to avoid congestion and delays caused by the need to keep a convoy. Load one car fuel tank with all the fuel available from the cars at your disposal. Follow recommended evacuation routes. Do not take shortcuts; they may be blocked. Be alert for road hazards such as washed-out roads or bridges and downed power lines. Do not drive into flooded areas. Listen to a battery-powered radio and follow local evacuation instructions.

If time allows:

+ Tell family or friends, using any available communication means, where you are going.
+ Secure your home by closing and locking doors and windows.
+ Unplug electrical equipment such as radios, televisions and small appliances. Leave freezers and refrigerators plugged in unless there is a risk of flooding.
+ If there is damage to your home or you are instructed to do so, shut off water, gas and electricity before leaving.
+ Leave a note telling others when you left and where you are going.

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