Emergency evacuee guidance for the public

Last updated on June 24, 2024

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Evacuation terms to know

Depending on the severity of the situation, an Evacuation Alert or Order may be issued. It's important to understand the difference and to always follow the advice and direction of your local authorities.

  • Evacuation Alert: Be ready to leave on short notice
  • Evacuation Order: You are at risk. Leave the area immediately
    • Tactical evacuation: This happens when a sudden threat to life requires immediate action and there is no time to prepare or issue written warnings. These types of evacuations are often coordinated by the RCMP or local police, with assistance from other agencies.
  • Evacuation Rescinded: The risk to life and safety has now passed

To be ready, know your hazards and follow PreparedBC's guides to prepare yourself, family, home or business in case an evacuation is ordered.

What to do when you receive an Evacuation Order

During an Evacuation Order, evacuees should do the following:

  1. Leave the area immediately. Choosing to remain puts yourself and others in danger
  2. Follow instructions provided on where to go
  3. Visit EmergencyInfoBC or follow @EmergencyInfoBC for news and updates
  4. Wait for the evacuation to be rescinded before returning home
  5. You may be told to create a profile to access emergency support services (ESS)

Risks and dangers of not evacuating

Receiving an Evacuation Order can be an emotional experience. You may be reluctant to leave your home and community.

However, choosing to remain in an area that is under an Evacuation Order puts yourself, your family, and first responders in danger:

  • Evacuation routes can change or become impassible
  • Services, utilities and businesses that you rely on daily may be shut down
  • Help may not be able to reach an evacuated area because of a risk to their own safety or access is blocked

In other jurisdictions, fatalities have occurred when people chose to remain behind or waited too long to leave.

For example, according to a report from Australia’s Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre, 31% of the 552 wildfire-related fatalities in that country from 1956 to 2008 were the result of people evacuating too late after an evacuation order was issued. Another 26% of the deaths were related to people attempting to defend properties against an advancing wildfire.

If you're sick or have mobility concerns

If you receive an Evacuation Order and are sick or have mobility concerns:

  • Tell the person that delivers the evacuation order
  • If possible evacuate by your own vehicle
  • If you're feeling ill, maintain physical distance wherever possible
  • If you're concerned about COVID-19, speak to a responder at a reception centre. Always follow guidance from your local health authority

Where to go if you receive an Evacuation Order

Only travel to support locations designated by your Indigenous governing body or local government. Supports will not be available if you travel to a non-designated location.

Evacuees should first look to use their own resources, such as insurance, to support themselves. If you don't have your own resources the Emergency Support Services (ESS) program may be able to support you. You must connect with a responder at an ESS designated reception centre to receive supports. 

Reception centres

A reception centre is a safe space that a First Nation or local government may open during an emergency, and it may be staffed with trained ESS volunteers. It can often be located in a school or community centre. 

What is available at a reception centre:

  • Receive information about the emergency
  • Register with ESS*
  • Get referred to food, clothing and shelter suppliers
  • Help with finding and re-uniting with family
  • Advice on recovery

What to expect when you arrive at a reception centre:

  • Intake can take time, and you may need to wait in line, dress for the weather if possible*
  • ESS responders will assess your needs
  • Responders complete referral forms for essential items
  • You may experience a range of emotions - be kind to yourself and others

*If you have access to a mobile phone, you can create a profile for ESS in advance to help speed up the process at a reception centre. 

Flood evacuee guidance

If flooding is imminent but you have not yet been instructed to evacuate, follow these tips:

  • Monitor local radio stations, television news and social media for the latest information from your local authorities on sandbagging stations, possible evacuation procedures and routes
  • If a flood warning is in effect, shut off electricity to areas that are at risk of flooding and move small appliances, electronics and smaller furniture to upper floors or areas not likely to be affected

If an Evacuation Alert is in place, be ready to leave on short notice. Take the following steps:

  • Make sure vehicles are parked away from streams and waterways
  • Remove toxic substances such as pesticides and insecticides from the flood area to prevent pollution
  • Do not attempt to shut off electricity if any water is present
  • Use sandbags to block floor drains and toilets to prevent sewage back-up

If an Evacuation Order is in place, you are at risk and must leave immediately. Follow all directions from officials and evacuate using the route(s) they’ve identified. Heed the following advice as you evacuate:

  • Do not attempt to cross rivers or flowing streams
  • Do not drive or walk across flooded roads – 6 inches of rushing water can knock an adult off their feet; 2 feet of water can carry away most vehicles – including trucks and SUVs
  • If your car begins to flood, abandon it quickly and head to higher ground

Wildfire evacuee guidance

If an Evacuation Alert is in place, be ready to leave on short notice. Take the following steps:

  • Move patio furniture, cushions and door mats indoors
  • Take down flammable curtains and window treatments
  • Connect garden hoses and fill large containers with water, such as pools, hot tubs and garbage cans. This can assist firefighters and help slow advancing flames
  • Ensure your house number is visible. This will help firefighters locate your home quickly 
  • Disconnect automatic garage door openers so doors can be opened by hand if you lose power

If an Evacuation Order is in place it means you are at risk and must leave immediately.

  • On your way out close doors and windows and turn on both interior and exterior lights so your home  is visible to firefighters in heavy smoke. Follow all directions from officials and evacuate using the route they've identified.

Natural gas safety

  • Do not shut off your natural gas when you receive an evacuation order, if requested by emergency officials, FortisBC will turn off natural gas service as a precautionary measure, or if there is an immediate threat to infrastructure
  • If you suspect a gas leak, turn off the gas valve and leave immediately and don't try to turn it back on, only a registered gas contractor can do that safely

Financial assistance

After a disaster, the provincial government may declare the event eligible for disaster financial assistance (DFA).

Recovery guidance

After evacuation, these recovery programs and services may be helpful.