What is an Emergency Evacuation?

An emergency evacuation could help save lives during a natural disaster.
A hurricane viewed from space.
During the Cold War, the U.S. government created plans that aimed to evacuate at least some people from cities in the event of a nuclear war.
Emergency evacuations are usually ordered during severe floods.
Severe weather can lead to the necessity of an emergency evacuation.
Important documents, such as passports, should be taken during an emergency evacuation.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Images By: Brian Nolan, n/a, The Official Ctbto Photostream, Fedecandoniphoto, Wirepec, Charles Taylor
  • Last Modified Date: 24 March 2015
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An emergency evacuation is a rapid mass removal of people from a dangerous environment to a safer space. Ideally, all of the people at risk will be removed and taken to safety, typically through a variety of means. The term may be used to refer to evacuating people from a single structure, or to the evacuation of people from an entire town or region. Emergency evacuations are undertaken for reasons of public safety, because officials believe that it would be dangerous for people to remain where they are.

There are a number of reasons for an emergency evacuation. Severe weather conditions such as hurricanes, tsunamis, and tornadoes may be cited, along with fires, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and bomb threats. In regions which are prone to serious environmental disasters, clear escape routes may be established and marked ahead of time, so that citizens are familiar with evacuation procedures.

In the case of a structure, many areas of the world require evacuation plans, meaning that administrators of a building must have a clear protocol in place for managing evacuations. To assist with an emergency evacuation, a building may have clearly marked escape routes including constantly illuminated signs. A central gathering point is usually arranged as well, so that all of the people in the building can be accounted for after evacuation.


There are several steps involved in an emergency evacuation. The first is the recognition of a potential threat. Next, officials must make a rapid decision about whether or not to order or request an evacuation. This decision weighs the potential cost and chaos of the evacuation against the probability of loss of life and property. An alarm is sounded, typically through multiple mediums including radio, television, and devices such as sirens, and the evacuation is initiated.

In the case of a mandatory evacuation, representatives of the regional or national government may enforce the evacuation, sometimes with the threat of force. Forced evacuations are relatively rare, and they are only undertaken when officials believe that the cost of dealing with people left behind is too high. In some cases, officials try to convince people to evacuate without the use of force, in the hopes that compliant citizens will be easier to handle. In other instances, people are allowed to remain behind during an emergency evacuation, with the understanding that they may encounter hazardous conditions.

If an evacuation is ordered in your area, pay attention to information about evacuation routes and public transportation. Evacuation orders may also include information about shelters which you can retreat to. Take important information like deeds to property, birth certificates, passports, and insurance policies, along with valuables and pets.



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