Step 1: The Evacuation Plan – Where to Go

Sure, you can head to the nearest shelter, but if sitting on cots at the local high school gymnasium or National Guard Armory was your first choice, you probably wouldn’t be reading this guide.

If the threat is severe enough that you have decided to evacuate, you need a safe house or survival retreat in a location where the current crisis will not threaten you.

Police prepare to evacuate low lying areas when a hurricane is due.Captain Dave does NOT recommend evacuating to a hotel or motel on the main evacuation route.  Chance are, you will be stuck with hundreds of other refugees right in the middle of shortages of food, water, batteries, gasoline, and other necessities.  Over time, unsanitary conditions may develop, there will be a lack of security, and you may fall prey to petty criminals or to more organized criminal gangs.

The best thing to do is to establish a safe house ahead of time.  And the easiest way to do this is to coordinate with a friend or family member located at least 100 and preferably 200 miles away.  It is also better if they are in a different setting than you are. For example:

  • If you’re in the city or nearby suburbs, they should be in a rural area or at least a smaller town, preferably well outside your city.
  • If you’re near the coast, they should be inland
  • If you’re near a flood plain, the safe house should be on higher ground.
  • If you live near an earthquake fault, they should be on the same side of the fault line, but further from the expected epicenter.

Keep in mind that while evacuating from your house in a coastal city to your brother’s house in an inland city may be fine in a hurricane situation, it may not be a wise move during a period of civil unrest or a pandemic.  For this reason, you may want to have multiple destinations that differ depending on the situation.

Here are some other things to keep in mind when pick your destination:

  • Whatever disaster you are facing should not affect them, and vice versa. This allows you to trade off, so when they are facing a survival situation, your home can be their safe house.
  • You need to be running towards something, not just away from danger.
  • You should be able to get there on one tank of gas, even if there is a great deal of traffic. During recent Hurricane evacuations, it was not unusual for a 100 mile trip on the interstate to take four hours.  There were also shortages of gasoline and food along the evacuation routes.
  • You won’t be turned away at the inn (Hotel rooms are quickly filled, and often at inflated prices).

If you plan in advance, you can leave a few changes of old clothes, a toiletries kit, necessary prescription drugs, ammunition for your personal weapon, some MREs , and anything else you might need at the safe house. This will make your evacuation easier and you will be less of a burden on your guests.  Even a couple of boxes or a suitcase in their garage, basement or attic will be a welcome addition to whatever you bring in your car.

The ideal location would be a rural home where the owners have a garden, arable land and some livestock.  Be sure to pull your own weight – this is not a vacation where you are the house guests and they wait on you hand and foot.  Your presence will be an imposition and a disruption of your host’s daily lives, so contribute to the effort and don’t make them regret inviting you.

Your Own Survival Retreat

While many will find that a friend or relative’s house is the easiest and most cost-effective safe house, the ultimate safe house or survival retreat would be a second residence located in a very rural location. During normal times, this survival retreat can double as your vacation home, hunting lodge, or weekend getaway destination. But when the balloon goes up, you can evacuate to a safe house fully stocked with everything you need for self sufficiency.

Captain Dave’s ultimate survival retreat would be:

  • Well off the beaten track, ideally reachable by a single dirt road. This seclusion will offer you a good bit of protection. For example, you can cut a large tree down across the road to help eliminate – or at least prevent motorized access by — unwanted guests.
  • Not too ostentatious, so that it doesn’t draw a lot of talk from locals and become a target for vandalism. Nothing wrong with a solid one-room cabin with a sleeping loft or just some land with a flat place to park your RV and a fire pit.
  • Near a spring, well, stream or other natural source of water.
  • Equipped with at least one fireplace or wood stove for cooking and heat.
  • Within 10 to 20 miles of a village or small town where you can go (by foot, if necessary) for additional supplies, news and other contact with the outside world, should the emergency stretch into months or longer.
  • Have enough arable land for growing your own vegetables and other crops.
  • Near a natural, easily harvestable food source, such as wildlife for hunting or fishing, berries, fruit trees, edible wild plants, etc.
  • Be provisioned with enough food to keep your family safe for at least three months, preferably a year, when supplemented with foods you hunt, gather and grow.
  • Be stocked with tools necessary for long-term self sufficiency, should such become necessary.
  • Stocked with enough weapons and ammunition to defend it from small groups of marauding invaders, should it come to that.

If you are worried about caching goods in an unattended house, where they could be stolen, you can cache a supply nearby. While most caches are buried in hidden locations, a simple solution to this dilemma is to rent a commercial storage unit in a town close to your retreat. This has several advantages:

  • As long as you have access to the facility 24 hours a day (one of those outside storage areas where you use your own lock is best) you can get to your supplies whenever necessary.
  • It will be much easier to make a few trips to and from the nearby storage facility and your safe house than to carry everything with you from home.
  • It’s easier to check on the status of and add materials to this type of cache than one buried in a secluded location.
  • In a worst case scenario, you can hoof it to the storage area, spend the night inside and hike back the next day with a full backpack. People have even been known to live in their storage units, although this is neither legal nor encouraged.

Of course, for the ultimate protection, a buried or other hidden cache is hard to beat. This is especially true for the long-term storage of ammunition and weapons that are hard to come by or may one day be considered illegal. See our section on caching for specifics on establishing this type of a cache.

The Best Approach

Ideally, you should live in a location where evacuation would never be necessary – off the beaten track, far from an urban center, not near any industry – where you could practice self sufficiency, raising a garden and some livestock of your own.  Unfortunately, the continual pursuit of money, material goods and creature comforts causes many of us to avoid this option.