Your earliest decision should be “Do we stick around for the disaster?” If at all possible, relocate your family if there’s a risk.
Sooner is better. The longer you procrastinate the worse the weather and road conditions will become. Everyone is going through the same thought process as you, so the earlier you begin evacuating, the easier it’ll be. One of the most common thoughts is “I’ll evacuate my family and stay behind”. If this comes up, just ask yourself “FOR WHAT?” Some sticks of furniture, the Hummel collection, and grandma’s dishes? Chances are that even if you DO remain behind, you can’t defend against Mother Nature. Ask yourself, “Is what I’m staying behind to protect worth my life?”, and base the decision on that. This is a thought process you can go through and discuss with your spouse long before there’s a threat of disaster.
Plan for the worst, and you probably won’t be disappointed. Plan on the roads being jammed with other evacuees driving like maniacs, leading to accidents and long delays. Signal lights and train crossings may not be working, causing accidents. Electrically powered rail and public transportation will not be reliable. Road congestion will decrease as you get further from the epicenter, but if you live in a population dense area try to time your departure for an off-peak time and choose lesser used roads. Once average Joe figures out it’s time to flee, the roads will be JAMMED. Expect more than the normal craziness from drivers. Do not engage in altercations because as a lot of folks will be scared, armed and looking for a reason to strike out. Avoid crowds, accidents and gawkers, as frightened people are unpredictable – usually in the worst of ways. Don’t openly display weapons, food, water or fuel. Other, less prepared evacuees, may see your stuff as their opportunity to “get well”.
Don’t count on hotels. As the herd moves away from the affected area hotels will fill up quickly. There was never a plan to handle tens of thousands of travelers at the same time, so only a lucky few will find commercial lodging. Hotels will be overcrowded and aren’t likely to have many amenities even if they’re open. Your best option should be to pre-coordinate with friends along your route and stay with them. Another choice might be to find home along the way, ring the doorbell, and ask to rent a room for the night. If you have children traveling with you, make sure they’re visible when trying these this. Men traveling alone?… better find a patch of woods somewhere as it’s unlikely you’ll be welcomed anywhere. You’ll be viewed as a threat.
Don’t stay in shelters. History has shown that nothing good ever happens in a shelter. Crime is high, law enforcement absent, and privacy non-existent. Rapes were commonplace in shelters during Katrina. Your personal effects will be stolen by less prepared residents, who justify their crimes by the “emergency”. Food, water and medicines will be tightly controlled and restricted. Disease and germs, which are inevitable in tight living conditions, spread like wildfire. The risk of staying in a shelter, even for a short time, is too high.
Carry your fuel. Don’t expect to find fuel until well clear of the affected area. Long hours idling or in slow moving traffic will eat up your fuel quickly, so make sure to take enough to get you at least 300 miles away. Remember, you’re competing with thousands of other evacuees for the same resources, so even if you do find some the price is likely to be greatly inflated. If possible, carry fuel on the outside of your vehicle and well concealed by other baggage. You’ll be passing other, less prepared people that have run out of fuel along your route. If you’re put into a position where they see your fuel and are refused when they ask you to share it, things could get nasty very quickly. Conceal your fuel containers inside a cardboard box marked “dishes” or “linen” and avoid the confrontation.