The first tropical storm of the season blew through Florida last week. Tornados have wreaked havoc in Oklahoma and elsewhere. Then there have been the freak thunder storms, fires, and other catastrophes impacting other parts of the country. No matter where you are, it’s a good idea to think about what you would do if you had to evacuate.
Here in the Gulf South, we are no strangers to evacuation. I hadn’t lived here a year before my first evacuation and Dylan was not quite 2 the first time we evacuated with him. Of course, I didn’t know about ADHD yet. While I’ve heard plenty of parents say that their ADHD kids have been fussy and grumpy since birth that was definitely not Dylan’s M.O. For his first evacuation (Hurricane Ivan), we spent a whopping 16 hours in two separate vehicles driving from New Orleans to Lafayette, LA. Keep in mind that a typical drive to Lafayette takes less than three hours, so, yes, this was a miserably long trip. Dylan slept through almost the whole thing and when he didn't sleep, he babbled to himself and watched what was going on outside the window.
We’ve evacuated a few other times as a family, most notably for Katrina. For that monster storm, we thankfully bugged out of town two days ahead of time, sparing us from the extremes of both danger and traffic.
Evacuating is not for the faint of heart but it’s the right thing to do. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. If catastrophe is heading your way and you can avoid it, I recommend it. You might lose some time and you’ll likely spend some money, but it’s better than losing your life or the life of a loved one. Here are a few tips:
Before Catastrophe Hits
- Know When.
Have a benchmark for when you’ll evacuate. For a hurricane, is it Category 1 in
the Gulf? Cat 3? In the Cone of Possibility or something more likely? Three
days away? One? For a tornado, which involves a much quicker decision making
process, there will be different benchmarks. Same thing with fires.
Everyone has a different level of risk tolerance. Know yours. Know that waiting for higher risk often means more crowded highways, less available gas, less of chance that you’ll actually make it out of town before catastrophe hits. If being in a car is difficult for your child, plan to leave early.
- Have a Plan. When you go, where are you going? Sometimes you can’t predict which way the storm will come. Have contingencies. For Hurricane Gustave a few years ago, we booked hotel rooms both East and West of New Orleans. I encouraged a fellow member of our church to do the same. He said he wanted to wait until he knew which way the storm was going. By the time he evacuated, all the hotels were booked and he ended up driving for 24 hours straight before sleeping in his car, along with his wife who has an anxiety condition. That could be nightmarish for a child with ADHD or other conditions including anxiety, autism, and sensory processing disorder.
- Book a Room. Don’t count on finding a hotel on the side of the road. Everyone’s way ahead of you, unless you’ve left really early. I generally try to book something when a storm enters the Gulf. Know the cancellation policy and you can always cancel ahead of time. When necessary, I’ve paid for a night when I still wasn’t sure just for peace of mind. Having a hotel room reserved is especially necessary if you are traveling with pets. It also gives you a destination, so you can tell your sequential thinker where you are headed.
- Plan for Meds. When we evacuated for Katrina, we figured we’d be gone for a few days and then we would come back, pick up a few limbs, and get back to normal. Return ended up being four months away; normal took a whole lot longer. I can only imagine how much of a hassle it might’ve been had meds been an issue, especially since stimulants don’t have automatic refills. If there’s a better than 50% chance you might evacuate, see if your doc will write you an extra prescription to tide you over until you get back (or until you find a new doc in your temporary secondary home).
- Bring Important Papers and Sentimental Items. Along with insurance documents, birth certificates, and your child's psychoeducational evaluation and 504 or IEP, let your child bring some of their favorite things. You never know when disaster will really strike. Short term, they will need the comfort and familiarity, and if the worst happens, they’ll have some of the things that are meaningful for them. I know this first hand.
- Have Car Activities. Just as with any long car trip, plan to keep your child entertained. I’m very lucky that Dylan is a phenomenal traveler. We have literally considered selling everything and buying a mobile home since Dylan’s behavior is very consistently good while traveling. That said, I always have a bag of tricks ready. When he was younger, this usually involved inexpensive dollar store games and toys that were new to him but were small and weren’t valuable. These days, it might be a new graphic novel or a new ap on my iPhone. I’m not a fan of TV in the car, but if there ever was a time to have it, this would be it.
- Stay Hydrated. But not too hydrated. Make sure everyone – especially the kids – drink enough fluids, but not so much that you have to stop at every rest area and large tree along the way. Dehydration can hasten and exacerbate melt downs.
- Follow Routines. As much as you can, keep to a normal time schedule so your child won’t get hungry and will feel some semblance of normalcy on the road.
- Overlook (Some) Bad Behavior. Evacuation heightens everything and even with your efforts to keep your routine, the situation will be anything but routine. Expect some difficulty dealing with it expressed through back talk or bad behavior. Only address things that cannot be ignored.
- Plan What Happens After You Stop. Dylan slept through that 16-hour marathon drive to Lafayette. When we arrived, I had literally burst a blood vessel in my eye from peering through the windshield so intensely all night long but Dylan was fresh as a daisy, ready to GO. As tired as I was, I had to drive around looking for a playground where he could burn off some energy.
If you can, share driving duties so that someone will be awake enough to take on parenting duties when you arrive. For the Ivan evacuation, we were in two vehicles since we had two dogs and a child, and the camper top we had ordered for the truck hadn’t arrived in time. (The truth was that it had arrived in time – twice – but the company didn’t measure it right – both times.)
Finally, try to make it fun. You’ll be stressed and so will your child, but it can also be an adventure. Think outside the box – if you can afford it, maybe you can evacuate to a resort or at least a motel with a pool. Spend some time seeing the sights. Evacuating can be a pain and it can be a hassle. But if you’ve got to do it, you might as well enjoy at least some of it.
(c) The Argonne Chronicles, 2013