Hurricane Jeanne (2004)Enlarge Photo
4. What aren't you taking?
Over the course of a life, we accumulate a lot of valuable stuff. Some of that value is monetary, some of it's sentimental, some of it's both. But you're not going to be able to evacuate with all those goods in tow. Find watertight containers for as many of them as possible. Take photos of your stuff, and file those pics with your insurance agent, so there'll be a record in case the worst should happen. The items with sentimental value won't be worth much when it comes time for payouts, but you'll have preserved a memory of them, which is no small thing.
Extra cars are trickier. If you plan to leave one of your vehicles behind, try to lock it up in a garage or under some kind of shelter -- preferably away from big tree limbs. If that's not possible, consider taking it to a cheap or free parking garage. Just be sure nothing valuable's left inside.
5. Talk with your family
Discussing evacuations with your family isn't always pleasant. If you have kids, you might make the younger ones worry unnecessarily, and the older ones may be too cool to take the situation seriously.
Our advice is that you discuss it in terms of a potential vacation. Tell them not to pack yet, but to think about what they would pack if they needed to. You might even turn it into a bit of a game, telling them that everything they take has to fit inside one suitcase. Encourage them to be creative and think like MacGyver (though they're probably too young to get the reference).
And don't forget to chat with your extended family, like parents, aunts, uncles, and children living away from home. Make sure they're prepared and that they have a way out of town, should the situation arise. This is especially important for any family members in care facilities like nursing homes or rehabilitation centers.
6. Talk with friends
Chances are, you've got more than a few friends who either don't own cars or, if they do, their vehicles aren't too reliable. Have a chat with them and make sure they're covered. There's almost nothing as gut-wrenching as pulling out of town and not knowing if your best pals are safe or not.
7. Plan your route
Depending on where you live, you need to have at least two evacuation plans at the ready. If you live along most of the Gulf Coast, you ought to have one safe haven to the east, and one to the west. In parts of Florida, Texas, and along the Atlantic, you need to move either north or south. (Note for first-timers: in the northern hemisphere, you generally want to be to the west and/or south of a hurricane, since that's where the storm is usually weakest.)
If you have friends with guest rooms, get in touch now and see if you can ride out the worst with them. If not, you'll need to be a little aggressive with hotel reservations. Plan to get at least 200 miles away from the storm's eyewall -- more if possible.
Keep in mind that even with contraflow, evacuation traffic is typically very, very heavy. It's not unusual for a journey that would normally take one hour to take six, eight, or ten in advance of a storm. To make things run a little smoother, leave town early, and depart in the middle of the night if you can. The traffic at 2am is going to be a lot more bearable -- and the weather will be a little bit cooler -- than at noon the following day.
In all honesty, we hope you don't have to put this checklist into action. But if you do, maybe it'll give you a head start. Feel free to share it with friends, neighbors, even complete strangers.
Did we miss something? If you've got a handy evacuation tip, drop us a line, or leave a note in the comments below.