Travel Safety Tips When Evacuating for a Disaster

The unpredictably of living in a disaster-prone state such as California reinforces the importance of ensuring that residents are always prepared. Whether it’s an earthquake, flood or wildfire, it is paramount to have a plan and be ready. During these events, evacuations are common in impacted counties and neighboring communities.

Below are recommended tips from the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and Department of Transportation (Caltrans) on how to properly evacuate and also to return home safely.

 

Before the disaster

Always be prepared if you live in or near an area with the potential for a disaster. This includes having at least two ways out of your neighborhood in case one is blocked.

Important steps:

  • Turn on your TV/radio. You’ll get the latest weather updates and emergency instruction.
  • Know where to go. If you are ordered to evacuate, know the route to take and have plan of where you will go. Check-in with your friends and family.
  • Keep your car fueled, in good condition, and stocked with emergency supplies and a change of clothes.

 

During the disaster

  • If there is an emergency in the area, be ready to evacuate on short notice.
  • If ordered to evacuate, do it immediately – make sure and tell someone where you are going and when you have arrived.
  • During an evacuation, remain calm and follow the instructions of emergency personnel.
  • Monitor your property and the fire situation.  Do not wait for an evacuation order if you feel threatened and need to leave.
  • Leave as soon as the evacuation is recommended by fire officials to avoid being caught in fire, smoke, or road congestion.

 

After the disaster

  • Return home only when authorities say it is safe.
  • Respect highway closures.
  • Watch for emergency crews and maintenance out fixing the roads post fire.
  • Be alert that trees may fall and block the roadway so exercise caution
  • Use caution when entering burned areas as hazards may still exist, including downed power lines and hot spots, which can flare up without warning. Evacuate immediately if you smell smoke.
  • For several hours after the fire maintain a “fire watch.” Check and re-check for smoke, sparks or hidden embers throughout the house, including the roof and the attic.
  • Signs and guardrail might be missing due to the fires, so reduce speeds and use extra caution while driving in areas impacted by fire.
  • Be aware of:
    • Trees, brush, and rocks that may be weakened or loosened by fire.
    • Debris or damage from fire on roads and driveways.
    • Debris on the road near your home and in your driveway.
    • Clearing the debris to the edge of your driveway and removing it later will help keep your home safe from fire.
    • Utility poles weakened by fire.

 

Driving Safety Tips

  • Do not speed in fire evacuation areas; obey the posted speed limits.
  • Stay Alert. Expect the unexpected.
  • Watch for emergency workers and other vehicles; drive with caution.
  • Turn on headlights so that workers and other drivers can see you.
  • Allow ample space between you and the car in front of you.
  • Listen for traffic you cannot see.
  • Be more observant. Visibility is often limited due to smoke and falling ash.
  • Give emergency crews room to work.  Stay at least four (4) car lengths back from emergency vehicles and other equipment.
  • Be Patient.

 

What to do if trapped in a vehicle: 

  • Stay calm.
  • Park your vehicle in an area clear of vegetation.
  • Close all vehicle windows and vents.
  • Cover yourself with a wool blanket or jacket.
  • Lie on the floor of the vehicle.
  • Use your cell phone to advise officials – call 9-1-1.

An evacuation plan and list for an emergency supply kit are available at http://www.readyforwildfire.org

 

Additional sources:

Cal OES

CAL FIRE

FEMA

Jonathan Gudel

Jonathan Gudel is a Public Information Officer for the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES). Since joining Cal OES, he has assisted in the response and recovery efforts of the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak, multiple wildfires, the state's historic drought and the Oroville Dam Emergency Spillway Incident and unprecedented winter storms in 2017. Previously, he worked in the newspaper industry for 12 years.

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