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An evacuation is the immediate and urgent movement away from a threat or hazard. Evacuations are more common than people realize and may be optional or mandatory. Disasters often force people to leave their homes, neighborhoods, cities and sometimes even states on short notice. Because you might not have much time to evacuate when a disaster strikes, it is important to have a plan in place to get your family out of danger quickly and efficiently.


  • Assessment
    Facts are gathered and a course of action determined. The team establishes what types of structures are involved, the extent of damage, the layout of building(s), hazards (downed power lines, gas leaks, flooding, animals, hazardous materials, structures that may collapse during the rescue, etc.); and what rescue personnel and equipment are required and are available. Structural damage is usually categorized as light, moderate, or heavy. Assessment is an ongoing process that continues through all phases of search and rescue operations; plans are modified as needed.

  • Search
    Search techniques focus on where victims are likely to be located and areas of entrapment. Areas of entrapment inside damaged structures are called voids; they include spaces that victims get into to protect themselves (under desks, in bathtubs, in cupboards). When potential areas of entrapment have been identified and the potential number of victims estimated, search operations begin. Initially, searchers call out, requesting victims to identify their location, following a systematic search pattern. Patterns include: triangulation (three searchers approach an entrapment zone from three directions); a right/left search pattern (one team searches the left side and another team the right side of a building); or a bottom-up/top-down search pattern. Searchers stop frequently to listen for noises or efforts to communicate. Searchers may all simultaneously stop their activity at specified times to do this. Where many structures are damaged (after hurricanes, for instance) the exterior walls of buildings that have been searched are marked using INSARAG's building marking system (see below).

  • Rescue
    Trapped victims are removed and given medical aid as necessary. Triage may be used to prioritize assistance for those who need it most. Before removing victims, it is often necessary to move or stabilize debris. Victims may be able to walk to safety themselves, or may be removed using lifts, drags, or carries. Removal of victims is designed to avoid further injury.

  • Building marking system
    Search and rescue teams mark buildings according to agreed codes that indicate the status of a structure and persons associated with it. The search team marks out a 1 metre by 1 metre square, and inside it writes G or N (‘go' or ‘no-go'), the team's identity, when the search started (date and time), and when the search was completed (date and time). They write the number of live victims rescued to the left of the square; the number of dead victims found to the right of the square; and the number of persons who have not been accounted for below the square. They write additional information on hazards associated with the structure above the square. When the team has done all it can do, it draws a circle around the entire marking. After all work on the structure has been completed and it is confirmed that there are no more victims, a horizontal line is drawn through the entire marking.