There are seasonal disasters that sometimes require evacuation. They generally provide some advance warning. Hours, at least, and sometimes days. If you know you live in an area where evacuation is a possibility, or you have enough advance warning, you can make evacuation an easier process. I'm not saying it will be easy, only that it will be easier.
The two most common reasons to evacuate in the US are floods and wildfires.
Flooding can be caused by storms, either local or upriver. Hurricanes are a common cause of flooding, but not the only cause. If it's a hurricane or an up river storm, you'll generally have enough warning to plan, pack, and evacuate. Even if you don't think you'll need to evacuate, it's still a good idea to e prepared just in case.
If you live in flood plains and flood zones, pay attention to the weather up above that will send the flooding down your way.When the rainy season hits or hurricane season, make a few preparations, and then relax until or if an evacuation is declared. If you're in a flood plain and might get flooded quickly (a bursting dam, for example, or a rapidly rising river) and might only have an hour a three to prepare or evacuate, having made advance preparations can be a real time saver.
Some things you can do to prepare for flooding:
Collect waterproof containers. Pack those items you would seriously regret losing that can't be replaced. Heirloom items, original art, ephemeral memorabilia like scrapbooks or memory boxes, collections, that sort of thing. I know, you like having them on display, but flood season isn't a year round event. If you want to keep these items and you live where flooding has occurred in the recent past - in a dam's flood plain, near a river or lake that have overflowed before, if your streets are prone to flooding and you've had standing water near or even up to your front door - pack them just to be sure you'll still have them when flood season is over.
Make sure one container has copies of all your important documents in it. Make sure each container has valid contact information for you in it so if it does get washed away in a flood, it might have a better chance of being restored to you. Just in case, make sure you back those documents up digitally, and send copies to be stored safely elsewhere.
You could, since they are in waterproof containers, leave them downstairs, but the higher you can get them, the drier and safer they'll be.
Stash food, water, life vests, rope, and an axe in your attic so if flood waters drive you up, you can get out, and have food and water while waiting for rescue.
Make sure a sturdy ladder is available to let you into your attic space.
Digitize all your photos. Yep. All of them. Store these digital copies on a flash drive. Back them up in the cloud. Make extra flash drives for family members. I know I regret that my ex has all my children's baby pictures - and he hasn't digitized them so I don't have any pictures from their early lives. And I don't have my mother's photo albums because my sister kept all of them, also not digitized. All my pictures are digitized, backed up, and given to my kids. I will never lose those pictures and my descendants will also be able to enjoy them.
If there's time and you haven't done so recently, photographically document everything you own. Take pictures of each wall of each room, of what's in closets and drawers and shelves. This can be used in insurance claims to replace much of what you might lose.
If flood is imminent, but you've got a day or two to prepare, consider hauling things that will be damaged by flood water as high as possible. Flood water is not clean water, it's nasty shit - filled with overflowing sewage, chemicals, and who knows what effluvia. Pack what you can into waterproof containers, haul what you can out of reach of the flood waters, and let go of the rest. If it only floods a foot or two in your house, the lack of fabric items to absorb the wet and mold will speed your clean up when you return. Anything that can be damaged by water should be hauled as high as possible, paced in the top of closets, on the tops of shelves, up in the 2nd floor (if you have one), up in the attic or roof crawl space, preferably inside of waterproof containers.
Your goal here is to reduce damage as much as possible and save what you can from the flood waters.
And remember, stuff can often be replaced. Don't get so attached to things that you forget to take of the living. I'll get into that a bit more after we go over some things about evacuating from fires because the evacuation process is pretty similar for both.
Now, fires are (obviously!) different from floods. A lot of things can be retrieved from floods and restored. That's not the case with fires. Fires eat things. Eat them up and turn them into ashes. Smoke damage can be (sometimes) cleaned up and items with smoke damage can sometimes be restored.
Instead of waterproof containers, you want fireproof containers. Store your essential documents in a fireproof safe. Back them up digitally and have duplicate copies stored elsewhere. Yeah, yeah, I like redundancy.
Digitize your photos. One of the things so many people regret losing in a fire are photos. Digitizing them means you may lose copies of your photos, but not the photos themselves. Photo-document your home if you haven't done so recently I highly recommend a bi-annual photo-inventory - once after a major gift-giving holiday, once at the midpoint of the year - and anytime you significantly add or change your home.
I'm not talking about fireproofing your home here, this is an evacuation diary, so we'll talk about prepping your home for evacuation from a wild fire. You will likely have days to prepare. You will be facing smoke damage even if you don't have to evacuate. As soon as wildfires crop up in your area, pack away those things that are precious to you that would suffer in smoke damage. A fireproof container is good.
Fire doesn't generally retreat below ground if there is nothing for it to eat. Burying things you want to save but can't carry off with you might be a viable way to save them. Pack them into waterproof containers, then cache them. Bury them deep - wildfires may not burn below ground, but they are still hot and if your things are too close to the surface, they might combust within the container. Dig deep if you use this method to save precious things.
Accept that anything left inside your house will be damaged, if not by smoke, then devoured by flames. If you accept it before you evacuate, the return won't be quite so devastating.
A year or two ago there was a meme going around on Live Journal (or was it FaceBook?) with people posting photos of the one item they'd grab if they had to evacuate in a fire. I don't think they were serious because very few of the displayed items would have done them a single iota of good.
That you may only have limited space to carry off things you'll need for survival in an evacuation, whether flood or fire, is a good reason to have the essentials already packed and ready to go.
If you've got a few days and can travel back to the area to be evacuated, you can obviously haul more things away, but your first trip should contain the essentials and the second and subsequent trips can be for the extras.
What are the essentials?
Important documents. You have copies already secured in fire and/or flood proof containers, but you should take copies with you in case those become inaccessible. Insurance papers, marriage license, divorce papers, birth certificates, passports, licenses, deeds, stocks and bonds, and other papers you need. Digitize them and have flashdrives of them stored far away, too. Redundancy will be your friend here.
Cash. What if all the ATMs you can get to are flooded out (like they were in the Katrina/Rita hurricanes) and all your money was locked up where you couldn't access it. I recommend a minimum of $100 per person, and I'd be more comfortable with $500 0 $1,000 per person. If you've got time, clean out as much of your savings account and bank accounts as you can and secure that money. After the disaster is over, you can refill your bank accounts with what's left over.
ID/Keys/Cell phone. Lock everything up when you leave and take all the keys and lock codes with you. Your ID should already be in your wallet - credit cards, debit cards, driver's license, state ID card, work ID card, gift cards, valued customer cards, etc. A cell phone will let you stay in touch. Don't forget the chargers! You'll want a car charger as well as a wall charger, and if you have a handy dandy solar charger, that's cool. All of this should already be in your daily carry bag (purse, briefcase, whatever you want to call it).
A main go-bag. If you live alone, this will just have things in it for you, but if you have parents, children, housemates, pets, you'll also have some basic things for each of them in this bag. It will have things like spare clothes and shoes, meds, toiletries, food, water, entertainment, first aid kit, more cash, copies of everyone's ID, emergency contact information, maps and directions to places where you can evacuate, copies of vet records, flash drive backups of documents and photos.
Go-bags for every member of your household. Like the main go-bag, but tailored for each person. Clothes, shoes, toiletries, meds, first aid kit, food, water, entertainment, something sentimental/precious to the person, emergency contact information, emergency cell phone (a pay n go one for each person, with refillable minutes on it), cash.
Pet go bags. If you have pets, be prepared to evacuate them, too. A list of pet friendly hotels is important, with directions, phone numbers, and a map. Pack halters, leashes, collars, pet sweaters, food, water, toys, treats, bedding. If the pet is small enough, a pet carrier can double as a crate, larger pets will need a crate. A folding crate takes up less space. For aquarium/terrarium pets, make sure you have what they need. Fish are more likely to die when stressed and may not survive an evacuation but they are far more likely to survive an evacuation than a flood or fire.
If you've got room for it, bedding for the people, a tent (in case the hotels are filled and you have pets so can't go to a shelter), some way to cook food, an ice chest of as much food as you have in your refrigerator/freezer as you can pack, as much of your pantry foods as will fit, essential and irreplaceable heirlooms, laptops, computers, cameras, e-readers, iPod/MP3 players, tablets, pen and paper, decks of cards, dice, gameboys, board games, etc.
If you've got time and the money and the Post Office/FedEx/UPS/train station is still open and working, consider boxing up and shipping some of your more precious items to friends living far away or even to yourself. If it can't be delivered, it will be held for delivery until the disaster is over. Be sure to insure it.
If you have to evacuate, chances are pretty high you will return to a damaged home, a missing home, or possibly even a home that's been looted. Let go of everything you leave behind. If it's all still there when you return, celebrate. If it's not there anymore, start working on rebuilding.
Once you evacuate, it's a waiting game. You have to wait for flood waters to rise and recede. You have to wait for the wildfire to be put out or die out and cool off.
In the meantime, you're stuck in a hotel, a shelter, a motel, or even an airport (remember all the people who were stranded because of the Icelandic volcano?).
Chances are your work is closed and you can't even go to work. That's where all those entertainments come in. You've got cellphone, food, games, and maybe a computer. Use these things. Talk to people. If you're in a hotel, don't hole up in your room, go down to the lobby to talk to others who are also stranded like you. In an airport, don't hesitate to talk to the other people who are also stranded. Ditto for a shelter.
Journal your experience. Take pictures. Turn it into an adventure while it's happening. Make good memories so when you're slogging through the flooded house shoveling silt and debris out or sorting and piling up the charred remains of your home or struggling to get the smell of smoke out of your antique curtains, you'll have those good memories and new friends to commiserate with, too.
Evacuation is hard, but it doesn't have to be all bad.