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None of us can accurately predict the future, although many people have tried throughout history — we're looking at you, Nostradamus. There's always an element of uncertainty, especially when it comes to making pivotal decisions that could spell the difference between life and death.
One particularly challenging choice we may face during survival situations is whether to stay put or evacuate. On one hand, remaining where you are may feel like the easiest and safest choice, since you know the environment and resources you have as well as the potential dangers you'll face. As the saying goes, better the devil you know than the devil you don't. On the other hand, remaining stationary can leave you in serious trouble if things take a turn for the worse. You might even wish you had bugged out when you had the chance.
Storm evacuations are one of the most critical stay-or-go decision points we face. In some cases, you may be left to weigh the risks of riding out the storm against the risks of leaving home. In other situations, you may be given a strong recommendation or direct order to evacuate, and have to make your choice based on that information. Attempting to travel immediately before or during a storm poses many dangers, as does leaving behind the resources and physical security of a manmade structure. But refusing to evacuate can be truly disastrous — just look at the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Harvey, or most recently, Hurricane Michael.
For today's entry into our ongoing Survival Scenarios series, we'll help you consider how you'd respond to the onset of a sudden and powerful storm, much like these recent examples. As usual, we'll explain the details of this hypothetical survival situation and the background information you'll need to know. Then we'll end with a poll where you can make your choice and see how other readers responded to the situation.
It's early fall, and you recently moved to Ashland, Virginia with your wife Rebecca and 2-year-old daughter Cynthia. Six months ago, your company offered you a transfer to its new office in Richmond, and with that offer came a pay raise that made your affirmative response an easy decision. Your house is about 25 miles from the second-story office downtown, and your commute takes roughly 45 minutes each way with normal traffic.
At the beginning of the week, you begin to hear news reports about a hurricane in the Caribbean, with forecasts indicating it will hit northern Georgia and South Carolina before moving inland. As the week progresses, these forecasts remain consistent. You expect some moderate rain, but you're far enough from the predicted path that you're not especially concerned about anything more severe. Thursday arrives and the storm path has shifted north to make landfall in Wilmington, North Carolina. However, there's still no indication you'll get more than some mild flooding and wind.
On Friday morning, you awake to an urgent phone call from your boss. He needs you in the office ASAP because one of the servers went down and the company's operations are in chaos. You roll out of bed, dress quickly, kiss your wife and daughter goodbye, and jump in your car. On the way to the office you notice the early-morning sky looks darker and more ominous than you expected, and the rain is really coming down. On the radio, you hear of heavy flooding and wind damage in the Carolinas, and realize that the storm may not be slowing down as much as anticipated. But your boss was insistent you come in.
All morning, you're busy dealing with the fallout from the server crash, but you soon realize the office isn't as busy as it should be. Many employees didn't come to work, and those that did are talking anxiously about the weather outside. It's now pouring rain, with gusting winds shaking the trees outside. Looking at your phone, you learn that the hurricane — still a powerful category 3 — is headed right for Richmond in a few hours.
With every passing minute, the weather outside seems to be getting more intense. A handful of coworkers leave, and you see them drive away through the buffeting rain and water-filled streets. You begin to wonder if you should head home to be with Rebecca and Cynthia since they're not accustomed to hurricanes. But you know what your stressed-out boss will say about leaving, and you really need this job.
You have access to the following supplies:
The office has 4 partially-filled water coolers, two vending machines with snack food, and a fully-stocked first aid cabinet. There's also a backup power system to keep the servers and emergency lights running if the power goes out. There are currently seven employees at the office, including your boss and yourself.
Your get-home bag is in the trunk of your car, which is parked in the lot just outside the office. It contains a change of clothes, a rain coat, protein bars, water filter, toiletries kit with basic first aid items, emergency blanket, rechargeable headlamp with spare battery, multi-tool, and a 9mm handgun with two 15-round magazines. There's also half a case of bottled water and a pair of waterproof boots in the trunk.
Back home, you have a fully-stocked pantry with plenty of shelf-stable food to survive for weeks, and 20+ gallons of clean water set aside. Physical security there is about average for a small house, and your wife is reasonably confident using the weapons in your safe if someone were to try to gain entry. Flooding is possible but unlikely based on your home's elevation, so wind damage and looters/property crime are the primary concerns.
Knowing that high winds often lead to power outages and that flooding might impede your ability to get home, now is the time to leave if you're going to do so.
If you choose to stay at the office, you won't have to venture out into the worsening storm. You'll have access to the limited supplies in the office, as well as the get-home bag and other items in your car. You'll also be stuck with your boss and five other coworkers — this could be beneficial if you work together, or could turn into babysitting frantic and unpredictable people for the duration of the storm.
The biggest advantage here is that you won't be attempting to drive home in severe conditions. Flooding, downed trees and/or power lines, closed roads, and traffic jams could trap you in your car before you get home, and this would be extremely dangerous. Staying where you are removes the risk of becoming stranded on the road.
The obvious downside to this plan is that you won't be with your wife and daughter when the hurricane hits your home. You hope they'll be OK given their resources and the location of your house, but if something catastrophic happens you won't be there to help. It's also unknown when the storm and flooding will abate enough for you to return home. Flood waters could easily fill the first level of your building, leaving you stuck in the second-floor office away from your family for days.
If you decide to head home, you're only a 45-minute drive away from your family — although it's more likely an hour plus in this weather.
Road and traffic conditions are a big unknown. The storm is coming from the southeast, and you'd be driving north out of the city. It might be a trouble-free trip aside from intense rain, or gridlock and flooding might prevent you from escaping downtown. You check your phone and see that news sites are proclaiming devastation in Virginia Beach and the first signs of flooding in Richmond, but it's hard to say how accurate these reports are to your immediate vicinity or your planned route.
If you make it home successfully, you'll have access to your family and all the supplies you've stockpiled. You can then decide whether the three of you should leave home to a secondary location, or hunker down. But if you commit to leaving the office and only make it partway home, you could face the full power of the hurricane out in the open. That result could be life-threatening.
Based on the information above and the pros/cons of each choice, it’s time to decide which course of action you’d take. Would you stay in the relative safety of the office with limited resources, and trust that your wife and daughter will be OK at home? Or would you immediately get on the road and try to reach your house before the full intensity of the hurricane arrives?
Enter your decision into the poll below, and feel free to justify that choice in the comments section.