Prepare in a Year Month 2: Make an Action Plan

Family looking at evacuation map

The Washington State Military Department (WSMD) has created a simple one-year guide—Prepare in a Year—to help people tackle one task per month. We will follow it here to help you prepare in one category every thirty days so that you will make progress monthly and feel ready by the end of the year. If you are preparing your family, make sure your family members know what to do as well. If you are preparing your business, make sure your colleagues or employees are up to date.

Our task for February is to Make an Action Plan.

What this means is knowing what to do when a disaster strikes and practicing it in advance. There are three main steps to creating an action plan:

  1. Knowing the types of disasters common in our area.
  2. Knowing how to respond to each type of disaster and whether to evacuate or shelter in place.
  3. Practicing tasks and responses.

Common Types of Disasters

In Washington we have a nice long list of potential disasters and a pretty good idea of whether to evacuate or not for each type (although this can vary so always listen to emergency officials).

  • Avalanches: Get away from danger asap.
  • Drought: Shelter in place.
  • Earthquake: You may need to evacuate your home/workplace.
  • Flood: Get away from danger asap.
  • Landslide: Get away from danger asap..
  • Severe Storm: Shelter in place. However, as climate change results in storms of greater intensity, we may get to a point at which we evacuate for certain predicted storms.
  • Tsunami: Get to higher ground asap.
  • Volcano: Evacuate or shelter in place (depending on proximity).
  • Wildfire: Prepare to evacuate and then evacuate when emergency officials give the order.
  • Hazardous Material: Evacuate or shelter in place, depending on circumstances.
  • Radiological: Shelter in place (unless instructed otherwise).

Shelter in Place

If evacuation is not called for (such as in the event of a large earthquake that has destroyed roads), plan for how you will stay put depending on the emergency. For example, after an earthquake that severely damages your home, you may need to camp outside, away from trees and power lines. In a radiological emergency, you will want to select a room in your house with few or no windows, and you’ll want to use plastic sheeting to help seal windows and doors.

Key to your ability to shelter in place is the Map Your Neighborhood (MYN) program, which is the organizational strategy used on Bainbridge Island for emergencies. Make sure you and your neighbors are prepared.

Beyond MYN, you will need to have a shelter-in-place strategy for your household.


Here are the questions to ask yourself to prepare for sheltering in place:

  • What room or rooms will you use?
  • How will you stay warm?
  • How will you access your emergency food and water supplies?
  • How will you cook (if you can)?
  • How will you keep your cell phone charged?
  • How will you keep informed?
  • How will you cut down on pollutants or toxins in the event of wildfire smoke or radiological or other hazardous  material release?

If you live alone and have special needs, you will ned to identify a support system and plan with the people involved how to help you shelter in place.

Once you’ve answered these questions, make a plan for your household (workplace) that gives everyone a job for quickly preparing your shelter after a disaster.


Listen to instructions from emergency officials via Nixle and FEMA and, if evacuation is a possibility, get prepared.

If evacuation orders go out and one or more of you may not be at home (or at the workplace), have a plan for how and where to meet up. The location may vary depending on the type of emergency. For example, in a wildfire that affects your neighborhood, you’ll want a meetup place outside the neighborhood. In the event of a house fire, establish a meeting place outside the home so you can quickly see who is missing and might still be inside.

In the event of evacuation, you want to have a go bag packed and ready in advance. The go bag should have the items you’re going to need in any emergency.

Go Bag

  • copies of all important documents (passports, rental agreements, mortgages, insurance papers, pet locator chip information, out of state contacts, inventory of assets and valuables, medical information, prescriptions)
  • maps to aid in evacuation
  • phone chargers
  • backup prescription medications
  • extra pairs of prescription glasses
  • small emergency food and water supply (including for pets)
  • blankets
  • extra clothing and shoes
  • cards or a game
  • flashlight
  • emergency radio
  • batteries
  • first aid kit

Some things you will want to throw in the bag at the last minute. Keep a list of these items because in an emergency you are likely to forget what they are:

  • easy-to-carry irreplaceable items (photos, jewelry, portable heirlooms)
  • dog and cat leashes, litter boxes, litter, animal crates
  • actual documents (passports, Social Security cards)
  • cash (smaller bills—$20 and under—are best)

In preparation for an evacuation, you also need to have a household (or business plan). Give everyone a job and practice those jobs.

Evacuation Jobs

  • Grab the go bag and the extra last-minute items.
  • Gather the pets and get their leashes on or put them in crates. Bring a water bowl for animals and a litterbox and litter for cats.
  • Turn off lights, heaters, and propane tanks. Close and lock windows. Unplug electrical equipment (not refrigerators).
  • Grab some food and snacks. (Don’t forget the pets.)
  • Leave a note informing neighbors of your whereabouts.

Destinations and Routes

In advance, select evacuation routes for each type of emergency (ferry or bridge? I-5 or back roads?). However, always listen to officials about the best routes and avoid downed power lines and closed roads.

Also identify places you might stay. Do you have friends or relatives nearby? Shelter locations are typically announced via media before or after a disaster. If shelters won’t take your pets, what other options can you choose?

Finally, make sure your vehicles always have at least half a tank of gas.

If you live alone and have special needs, you will ned to identify a support system and plan with the people involved how to help you evacuate.


Your plans will be much less effective if people can’t practice their responses in advance. Include the following in your practice:

  • Make sure everyone knows how to call 911.
  • Make sure people know CPR and First Aid, including Stop the Bleed.
  • Make sure people have access to key telephone numbers. Practice calling an out of state contact to inform them of your status.
  • Discuss and practice how to get out of each room in the house. There should be two exits from each room.
  • Make sure everyone knows how to use the fire extinguisher and how to put out different types of small fires.
  • Make sure everyone knows hot to shut off water, gas, and electricity.
  • Test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors monthly.
  • Keep your food and water supplies updated.
  • Know and practice the plans at your children’s schools and at your workplace.
  • Practice your plan once or twice a year.

Congrats! You have now taken the second step toward readiness. Tune in next month for Step 3: Storing Water. Missed last month? Read about Making a Communications Plan here.

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