Evacuations & Shelters

Emergency situations may occur in the city that require a partial or full evacuation. Major fires, transportation accidents, hazardous material incidents or localized flooding may require small scale evacuations, whereas other events may require mass evacuation.

The city has the primary responsibility for ordering an evacuation and ensuring the safety of its citizens. The decision to evacuate, as well as the scope of the evacuation, will depend on the type, magnitude, intensity, duration, and timing of the disaster. For weather-related incidents, the city depends upon information received from the National Weather Service to make evacuation decisions.

The amount of time you have to evacuate will depend on the disaster. Advance warning may allow you as much as a day or 2 to prepare to evacuate; however, many disasters offer little or no time to prepare even the most basic necessities. This is why you should prepare now.

Planning for Evacuation

  1. The route that you will use to evacuate from your home or business will largely depend on the type of emergency. If an emergency immediately impacts a specific area, public safety officials will warn citizens by using public address systems or by making door-to-door notifications. For large scale emergencies, listen to media announcements on radio or television for specific information regarding evacuations. Listen and follow instructions carefully.
  2. Talk with your family now about the possibility of evacuation. Plan where you will go if you have to leave the community. Determine how you will get there. If you do not own a car, make transportation arrangements with friends, neighbors or your local government.
  3. Plan a place to meet your family in case you are separated from one another in a disaster. Ask a friend outside your area to be the "check-point" so that everyone in the family can call that person to say they are safe.
  4. Find out where children will be sent if they are in school when an evacuation is announced.
  5. Assemble a disaster supplies kit. Include a battery-operated radio, flashlights and extra batteries, first aid supplies, sleeping supplies, and clothing. Keep a stock of food and extra drinking water.
  6. Keep fuel in your car if an evacuation seems likely. Gas stations may be closed during emergencies.
  7. Know how to shut off electricity, gas and water at main switches and valves. Have the tools you will need to do this (usually pipe and crescent or adjustable wrenches).
What to Do When You Are Told to Evacuate
Listen to a battery-powered radio and follow instructions by local officials. If the danger is a chemical release and you are instructed to evacuate immediately, gather your family and go. In other cases, you may have sufficient time to follow these steps:
  1. Gather water, food, clothing, emergency supplies, and insurance and other important papers.
  2. Wear protective clothing and sturdy shoes.
  3. Secure your home. Close and lock doors and windows. Unplug appliances. Take any actions needed to prevent damage to water pipes by freezing water, if this is a threat.
  4. Turn off the main water valve and electricity, if instructed to do so.
  5. Let others know where you are going.
  6. Leave early enough to avoid being trapped by severe weather.
  7. Follow recommended evacuation routes. Do not take shortcuts - they may be blocked. Be alert for washed-out roadways and bridges. Do not drive into flooded areas. Stay away from downed power lines.
Taking shelter is critical in times of disaster. This may mean going to a basement during a tornado warning, staying in an enclosed structure while a chemical cloud passes or staying home during a severe storm without electricity or water services for days.

Public sheltering, in times of emergency, is a basic component of the city's emergency management program. There are several scenarios that may dictate the need for shelter operations.

First is the need to shelter individuals who have been displaced as a result of a fire or another event which may affect only 1 or several families. A single family or multiple families from an apartment complex fire would be assisted using normal day-to-day resources. Agencies located in the city, such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army, TRUST and the Rescue Mission, have facilities available for temporary housing.

Public Shelters
If an emergency or disaster situation impacts a large portion or the majority of the population, a full activation of the city's public sheltering program will take place. There are several city departments and agencies that provide manpower and resources for public sheltering. There are 8 city schools and several city facilities and churches that have been designated as potential shelters. Once an emergency or disaster occurs, a decision as to where the public will be sheltered will be made by the Coordinator of Emergency Services depending on the nature, extent and location of the emergency. The location of shelters and other important information will be made available through the media, public address systems or door-to-door notifications at the time of the emergency.

A coordinated effort is required to ensure that evacuees are registered and tracked throughout shelter operations and that all needs are met. Other departments and agencies involved in shelter operations include the American Red Cross, Human Services, Police Department, Roanoke City Fire-EMS, the Virginia Department of Health, Amateur Radio Emergency Services, and others.

Public shelters are a valuable resource and may be the only type of housing available during major disasters. Keep in mind that you will be sharing space with people you do not know and accommodations will not be extremely comfortable. If at all possible, families should consider other arrangements such as staying with other family members or friends.

Regardless of where you will be sheltered, it is important to plan ahead and be prepared to take important supplies with you.

Shelter Living During an Emergency
  1. Remain in shelter until local authorities say it's okay to leave. The length of your stay can range from a few hours to several weeks.
  2. Restrict smoking to assigned, well-ventilated areas. Ensure that smoking materials are disposed of safely.
  3. Cooperate with shelter managers and others staying in the shelter. Living with many people in a confined space can be difficult and unpleasant, so try to be cooperative and understanding.
  4. Maintain a 24-hour communication and safety watch. Take turns listening for radio broadcasts. Watch for fires.
  5. Improvise an emergency toilet. If necessary:
    1. Use a garbage container, pail or bucket with a snug-fitting cover. If the container is small, use a larger container with a cover for waste disposal. Line both containers with plastic bags.
    2. After each use, pour or sprinkle a small amount of regular house disinfectant, such as chlorine bleach, into the container to reduce odors and germs.
  6. Make arrangements for your pets before going to a public shelter. For health reasons, pets are not allowed in public shelters unless required for owners in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).