Evacuate and Find Shelter

The City has an emergency plan that includes standard operating procedures for initiating an evacuation. Where you would go during an evacuation depends on the location and type of the disaster.

Local Evacuation Routes:
Wildland Fire

If you must evacuate:

A wholesale evacuation of the county's 3 million residents is not contemplated under the most extreme disasters analyzed for San Diego County. However, selected evacuations could be necessary in certain hard-hit areas, as was necessary in the 2003 wildfires. Circumstances would dictate how to coordinate traffic flow out of an affected area, but here are a few general guidelines:

Unless there is immediate danger, stay at home, work, school or elsewhere, until officials signal where it is safe to go. Keep any driving to a minimum to make room for emergency vehicles and other necessary travel.

If an evacuation is ordered, the sheriff's office or other law enforcement agencies will announce details, what routes to take, where to go for shelter and care and how long the emergency and the evacuation may last.

Freeways: Although strengthened to withstand most earthquakes, freeways, off ramps and bridges could become unstable. Traffic managers recommend stopping as soon as possible to make sure it's safe to proceed. Be wary when driving. Changes to directional flow on freeways and other roads could be made.

Keep your vehicle's fuel tank full. Depending on the type of emergency, gasoline may not be available.

Mass transit: Transit agencies, school bus fleets, vans and ambulances stand by to assist in relocating people unable to leave on their own. Nursing homes, prisons, hospitals and other institutional facilities are required to prepare their own plans for possible evacuation or relocation. Details on accessing emergency transit would be broadcast to the public along with a phone number to request special assistance.

Emergency Shelter

Once deemed safe, a list of places will be broadcast:

The American Red Cross is officially designated by federal, state and local authorities to run emergency shelters. If the agency is not able to respond, the county's Health and Human Services Agency or individual cities would take over.

Locations: The Red Cross has identified more than 600 potential emergency shelters, such as schools, but does not make the list known in advance of a disaster because it doesn't want the public to go to a shelter until the site has been deemed to be safe. Qualcomm Stadium, Petco Park and the San Diego Convention Center have not been designated as potential shelter locations.

Notification: Shelter locations would be broadcast via the county's Emergency Alert System (on KOGO/AM 600) and other public information outlets. A toll-free number to find shelter sites is (866) 438-4636.

Services: The Red Cross will handle food, first-aid treatment, crisis counseling and individual services, such as supplying clothes, arranging temporary housing and assisting with shelter costs, medication and occupational supplies. Caches of supplies have been pre-positioned at local fire stations and other locations around the county.

Minors: The county's Child Protective Services office is responsible for caring for unaccompanied minors. Call the hotline at (800) 344-6000.

Prepare to 'shelter in place'

In the event of a terrorist attack or other emergency where hazardous materials have been released into the atmosphere, there are additional steps you should be familiar with.

Actions described elsewhere in this section such as creating a family emergency plan, stocking a disaster kit and gathering important documents remain vital preparation measures for such emergencies.

During some emergencies, you may be asked to “shelter in place” – meaning you should stay indoors at your home, place of work or at school to protect yourself from chemical, radiological or biological threats.

To 'shelter in place'

  • Bring pets inside.
  • Turn on your TV or portable radio for official information.
  • Close and lock windows and exterior doors.
  • Turn off fans, heating and air-conditioning systems.
  • Close fireplace dampers, vents and other openings.
  • Find refuge in an interior room without windows, or a room with the fewest number of openings to the outside. If there is a chemical peril, a room above ground level is preferable. For sheltering against radiation dispersed by a “dirty bomb” or from radioactive fallout after a nuclear explosion, shelter in a basement or lower level room.
  • Move your 72-hour disaster kit to an easily accessible location.
  • In the room you have chosen for refuge, seal openings or cracks around the door, any windows and vents leading into the room with heavy tape, plastic sheeting or wet towels.
  • Prepare to evacuate quickly if ordered to do so.

Remember that instructions to “shelter in place” are usually provided for durations of a few hours, not days or weeks. There is little danger that the room in which you are taking shelter will run out of oxygen and suffocate you.

If your home is damaged, you may be forced to go elsewhere. The Red Cross has identified more than 600 potential emergency shelters locally, but it does not announce locations before disasters occur. Recreational vehicles or camping tents may be useful as backups.