Hurricane Rita left this question: If a successful emergency evacuation involves 100-mile highway backups, motorists running out of gas and water, widespread road rage and the death of 23 seniors in a freak bus accident, what would a failure look like?

Rita showed that evacuating a sprawling metro area is at best slow and difficult, and that sometimes an evacuation can rival its cause as a source of misery.

What if the noble concept of saving lives and protecting people and pets from an incoming disaster ended up being a failure in real life?

We preach to be ready to care for yourselves, your loved ones and especially on this site, your animals. Ok, so you've done that, have a communications plan and emergency supplies. It's time to go, everyone is in the car and on the road...........and so did everybody else.

During Hurricane Rita in Texas   2005: 

  • Solie Jimenez left the Houston suburb of Pasadena at 4 a.m. Thursday with her 6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son heading for Lufkin, more than 100 miles northeast. But 24 hours later, they were still in their car — and still not out of Houston.
  • Ozan Patterson, a dialysis patient and stroke victim, needed supplementary oxygen 24 hours a day. Patterson's daughter Lorraine Nelson, drove her father from his home in Port Arthur, Texas, to a cousin's house in Austin. They were stuck in traffic from 11 p.m. Wednesday until 2:30 p.m. Thursday. Her father ran out of bottled oxygen. There was nothing they could do except keep the air (conditioning) burning as high as they could. Lorraine called ahead from Houston to set up dialysis treatment for Friday afternoon. He survived, but it was pretty scary. 
  • Danny Hart, 37, co-owner of a restaurant-nightclub in Galveston, fled Wednesday and spent 12 hours on the road. His wife, who left earlier, made the same trip in four hours; his partner, who left later, spent 24 hours traveling 60 miles. 

In densely populated places, the roads are crammed, no gas, no bathroom!, no food or water. The kids are fussy, the dog is whining and you are just stuck. WTF? You have done everything right, and now you are stuck. Are you any closer to safety? 

There are always those who don't or won't leave- for lots of reasons. That is their choice and risk. But what about those who want to escape and find the ways out packed or not working?

What would you do?

I live in West Los Angeles where traffic density is a blood sport on a good day. Add crisis, panic and everyone having the the same idea at the same time; it is recipe for sheer misery and not necessarily rescue.

A study* of a community that was ordered on evacuate in the face of a flood revealed some interesting facts:

  • Overall, 19.4% of households did NOT evacuate.
  • Households with children had a much lower evacuation failure rate vs ones with no kids. 
  • Households with pets had a much higher evacuation failure rate vs ones with no pets. 
  • Households with kids and pets were a little better at evacuation; households with only pets failed to evacuate at a higher rate. 

Bottom line: the largest group that decided NOT to evacuate were those with pets and no kids. 

The reasons those households gave as why they chose to stay:

  1. Having many pets.
  2. Having outdoor dogs and other pets. 
  3. Not having carriers or supplies, especially with cat owners. 

What does this mean to you? 

Prepare, plan, get ready.  

Spend a few minutes assembling what you would need if you had to save yourself and your pets. Start with the basics: food, water, leash/carrier.  Make a stash for the house of some extra food and water out of reach of every day. 

Think about where you might go and how you might get there. How long would it take you to get Fluffy and Snowflake and Killer out of the house? 

And what if getting out of the house put you in even more peril? Have supplies at home just in case the effort at rescue is worse that staying home.



*American Journal of Epidemiology 2001;153:659-65