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In a Civil Defense Emergency

A few months ago everyone was evacuated from a street near me due to a gas leak. It got me thinking: How would I know if I was supposed to evacuate my house? I rarely answer the door unless I'm expecting someone. How would I get to an emergency evacuation centre? How would I cope once I got there? Maybe the recent Canterbury earthquake has made you wonder similar things.

Auckland Civil Defence told me that they ask people who are unable to evacuate their property without assistance to hang a white towel where it can be seen from the street (e.g. on the fence or front door). This alerts the emergency services that you need some kind of help. If, like me, you are unable to do that then they can't help you and you need your own plan. I do not know if this is the same throughout New Zealand as the various Civil Defence regions seem to function independently.

This is the plan I have developed: hopefully it will give you ideas from which to develop a plan of your own.

Learning an evacuation is required

I am in the process of finding three people on my street who could let themselves into my house if they ever heard we needed to evacuate. Those who have agreed to do this have been given written instructions on how to get into my house and what I will need from them once they do so. Hopefully at least one of them will be at home should there ever be an evacuation. It has not been easy to find able-bodied people who live in my street, are generally home during the day and who I trust with a key to my house! As a backup I have put a sign on our front door asking members of any emergency services to knock, loudly identify themselves and wait for an answer and subscribed by email to Auckland Civil Defences emergency status update service.

A place of refuge

I have asked various friends who are often home in the daytime if I could be evacuated to their house in an emergency. I will hope to go to the closest one where someone is at home, but they include people up to 25 minutes drive away in case the evacuation zone is substantial. These people have been asked to provide a quiet space with either a sofa or a bed and to phone my husband and/or my parents to tell them where I am. The location of a list of their phone numbers and addresses is recorded on the instruction sheet I've given to the neighbours.

Essential supplies for the duration

Before I leave the house, I or my helper will get together some essential supplies. I have decided not to make up an evacuation kit as what I would need varies with the situation and a complete kit would be very bulky. Instead, I have made three lists, each of which includes notes on where each item should be found. The first gives basic things I would always want: small quantities of medications, back support pillows, hot water bottles, drinking straws, lightweight cutlery, my laptop and my teddy. If I'm going to be staying overnight there is a list of extra supplies I will also need. Lastly, if I've been unable to find a house to be evacuated to and have to go to an official evacuation centre I have a much longer list of further essentials. I would hope that this third list would never be needed and I could instead be evacuated to a hospital or rest home, but this can't be guaranteed.

Note that I have not given any of my lists to the neighbours who have agreed to help me with evacuation. Instead, their instructions state where to find these lists so I can update these lists without having to also remember to pass out revised copies.

I hope that this plan will never be needed but I am glad to have it.

Heather - October 2010