Over the past 12 months, we have seen numerous natural disasters that have forced Americans to leave their homes and seek safety somewhere else. From wildfires to hurricanes, millions of people have been told to evacuate their homes and find refuge elsewhere on very little notice.
Last year, Hurricane Irma created one of the largest mass evacuations in history as the storm barreled toward the East Coast. Not only were the roads packed with cars for miles, but gas stations were overwhelmed with customers. At airports, passengers waited for hours, hoping for a seat to get out of town.
In Florida, mandatory evacuations were ordered for parts of Miami-Dade County, Broward County, Palm Beach County, Brevard County and Monroe County, which is home to the Florida Keys.
According to the Florida Department of Transportation, highways that typically saw around 1,000 cars during heavy traffic times were jammed with over 4,000 vehicles.
One problem with a place like Florida is that there are only two primary highways that travel north and south, which means a mass evacuation leads to miles-long gridlock and never-ending lines at gas stations.
When you combine limited escape routes, insufficient time and the fact that you may have nowhere to run because of the scale of the threat, an evacuation order can quickly turn into a waking nightmare.
Even if you have a bug-out bag and feel ready to deal with disaster, do you also have a planned route to get out of Dodge? And perhaps just as important, do you also have a backup plan?
Here are four things to consider when deciding on a bug-out route:
Where will you be leaving from? What I mean is you need to plan an evacuation route from home, work and your children’s school. You should also plan routes from any other locations you frequently visit.
Consider whether these starting points will all lead to the same designated safe location or if you need to have a different bug-out location for each starting point.
Also, be sure to set meeting points if family members are coming from different places before you all head out of town together — and a “no comms” plan if you can’t get in touch with each other.
Obviously, if you are bugging out, you should have a bug-out bag with you. Are there any specific items you may need for each route?
For example, if one route has you traveling by bicycle, what tools will you need if the chain breaks or you get a flat tire? If a certain route requires you to cross a bridge, do you have a way to get across or go around if the bridge is gone? What if there’s snow on a particular route? Do you have chains for your tires and a shovel if you need to dig yourself out?
You can’t take every tool or car part with you, so try to decide on the most useful items that will help you get where you are going.
The more people you have with you the more dangerous traveling will be. It’s a lot easier to move faster and avoid detection when you are alone. If you will be bugging out with several family members — especially those who are very old or very young — it may be difficult to move quickly without being noticed.
You also need to consider if your companions can carry their own gear or if they will need help. If it’s the latter, you may want to entertain the idea of leaving caches along your route.
If you have several kids with you, for example, it may be more challenging to carry everything your group will need. So you might want to have extra supplies stashed along the way or consider using a wagon or something you can pull behind you and fill it with gear.
Perhaps most importantly, how will you get where you need to go? If you are a traveling solo, something like a motorcycle might be the best way to get out of town. You can navigate traffic easily and go many places cars simply can’t.
Of course, if you have a family, the ol’ minivan may be your only option (for me, it’s our Chevy Suburban). Don’t forget to evaluate your mode of transportation for each season. Is your minivan going to overheat in the summer? Will it be able to get through snow? Do you have a 4×4 option?
The bottom line is when it comes to bug-out routes, you need to have multiple options. Where I live in southern Utah, there are canyon roads and trails that go for miles over mountains and connect to other areas. During an evacuation, it might be better for me to use one of these roads rather than get on the one freeway that runs through town.
Remember to think about different modes of transportation as well because you never know what could happen. And if you’re like me with four kids to drag along — well, good luck!
Keep in mind there won’t be one perfect route for anyone. Depending on your situation, you need to look at all the angles and develop your own plan for getting to a secure location as quickly and safely as possible.