Your decision to stay and ‘ride out’ an emergency, such as a hurricane, wildland fire, severe winter storm, etc. or ‘bug out’ is going to depend on a number of factors. In this article we will explore some of the planning you should do pre-event to help you develop ‘triggers’ to indicate whether to stay or go. We will also look at some post-event triggers that may cause you to evacuate.
Your preparedness planning should include a threat and hazard identification and risk assessment (THIRA).
This is a commonly used process in emergency management to determine the threats and hazards to a community, the probability of each occurring and then the risk (damage) that could result. Based on the results of a THIRA a community determines what capabilities they need to be able to respond to that event and then what they need to meet those capabilities such as equipment, supplies or training. More on the process can be found at https://www.fema.gov/threat-and-hazard-identification-and-risk-assessment.
We can use the THIRA process to come up with an effective plan to mitigate, prepare for, respond to and recover from an event. We build this into our planning, so if we identify that we do not have the capabilities to withstand an event, we have triggers, or decision points, that we have already decided that it will be time to bug out.
For example, if you live in Florida one risk is a hurricane. Based on hurricane patterns and how far inland you live you might determine your risk from a category 1 hurricane is low, but high for a category 3 or larger. Part of that risk includes flood, which causes more damage than the winds from a hurricane. The probability for a category 3 or higher in your area can be determined by historical data, so let’s say its medium. From this you would add a trigger in your plan that if you get a category 3 or higher hurricane predicted for your area that you will bug out within 48 hours of predicted landfall. You might increase that to 72 hours before landfall if it predicted to be a category 4 or 5. This would be based on your egress routes to an alternative location, especially considering there are only two major highways north out of Florida and you don’t want to be caught and stuck on the highway with thousands of others trying to evacuate at the same time.
During the THIRA you might identify you need to improve drainage around your property to reduce (mitigate) flooding or have storm windows installed or wood pre-cut and ready to board up windows. Preparation activities might be to have readily available and stocked bug out bags for each family member, which includes important documents, and a “last actions” checklist of things you add and do, such as turning off gas and water. You might also determine that you lack skills such as minor repairs or some medical skills beyond basic first aid, and therefore should acquire those skills if possible.
An important document is your family emergency plan and documents binder. This is your emergency plan and trigger points but also a list or copy of important documents, contacts, family records, medical records, insurance policies, Wills, serial numbers and pictures of valuable property, recent video of every room in your house, etc. This is going to be very important for any insurance claims. While we usually call this a binder, it can also be an electronic copy on a secure, password protected, USB drive. You should also keep another drive with a trusted friend or family member.
Another factor you should consider is your level of preparedness in terms of supplies to sustain you and your family post an event. This would not only be in terms of food and related supplies but your capability to sustain yourself when critical infrastructure fails, such as power, water, communications and sewer. The number of days you can sustain yourselves without outside help is also going to depend on the damage around your area and how quickly help might be able to get in. In the past FEMA and emergency management always said you should be prepared for three-days. Over the past several years they have recommended at least five days because many of the larger events have caused so much damage to roadways that they can’t get in until they have been cleared.
Some events can be fast moving. In the instance of a wildfire sudden changes in wind direction could quickly block your egress routes. If you are in an area that could be impacted by wildfires then your planning should include mapping out several routes out of your area. Your triggers should give you sufficient time to get pets ready to go or get family home from friends or other places they could be. This would be a pre-trigger to evacuating, because you don’t want to be trying to locate family when it is time to evacuate.
It is important that once you have determined what your triggers are YOU STICK TO THEM. It is important that your family is all on board with your plan. You don’t want to try and convince them when time is of the essence.
The chart below is a basic list of triggers grouped into “preparedness conditions” (PREP-CON). It lists triggers together with some actions that you might want to take.
Some events, such as hurricanes, usually come with some warning. Others, such as tornadoes, come with less warning and others, such as earthquakes, come with no warning. Some events, such as severe winter storms, are not usually going to cause us to evacuate. However, regardless of the event we need to make an assessment once it has occurred to reassess our situation.
There are a number of different decision processes you can use to assess a situation once it has happened. The figure shows some of these:
Post a disaster you need to assess your situation. The S.T.O.P. mnemonics is a good tool for this STOP, THINK – assess the situation, your supplies, your capabilities, damage and any injuries, OBSERVE – your surroundings, what is available, what hazards are there, PLAN – implement your plan or come up a revised one. Some of you may be more familiar with the OODA LOOP process; observe, orient, decide and act.
You can use the Rule of Three’s to access your supplies and situation; do you have shelter? Do you have enough water and food? What is “enough” you might ask. Well that is also going to depend on the situation and how much longer before things get back to normal. It will also depend on whether you planned to have some extra to help neighbors.
You can use The Four Priorities to help develop or revise your plan of action. As mentioned above you should have a printed copy of your plan and also these mnemonics to help you with your decision process after a disaster as it is likely that you will be under considerable stress.
Assessing your situation post disaster, and periodically thereafter, if you decide to stay, is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, the situation and event may have been worse than originally forecast. Damage to critical infrastructure may have been more than forecast and you are not totally self-reliant. If roads and bridges are impassable due to storm surges or other damage and will impact resources getting to you then you might have to decide whether you are staying or seek another route out, or calling for help. If someone becomes injured through the event your decision to stay could be impacted if sufficient medical care is not locally available.
The time to assess your situation, determine what your risks are, the potential damage, impacts, and your level of preparedness long before an event happens. Preparedness not only includes supplies and equipment but skills, such as basic medical skills, and capabilities such as your ability to do minor repairs. You should reassess prior to specific weather seasons, like hurricane or tornado season. There are two “rules” you should always remember:
• The 6 “P”s – Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance
• Fortune Favors the Prepared