To minimize the loss of lives and reduce other flood impacts, an area should be evacuated when the depth of standing water due to flooding is already or is expected to become high. Such floods are defined as those which are expected to cause buildings, including residential houses, to be washed away or seriously damaged by the flooding.

Organizational aspects of evacuation planning

An interdisciplinary planning organization must be set up covering the key institutions that have remits relating to disaster and specifically flood management. This organization can be a Community Flood Management Committee (CFMC). In addition to the CFMC, evacuation centers should also be established in appropriate settlements.

The members of the CFMC should have knowledge of evacuation and rescue operation and emergency, including medical care (if this is not the case, then basic training should be provided to them). Evacuation plans should be prepared after discussion with the community. Participatory planning will increase people’s awareness and ability to cope and manage flood risk. The evacuation plan should be available to all members of the community, including the most vulnerable.

Dissemination of information on flood risk and flood preparedness requires the organization of regular community meetings. Such meetings can take place before the onset of the rainy season, or monsoon. It is vital that evacuation drills will be held regularly to test the effectiveness of the evacuation plans.

The evacuation plan should delineate an escape route and also identify small- scale works that may be needed to make the route safer. Such works can be executed in cooperation with the community as well as with external support. The evacuation plan should also determine modes of transport and access routes for evacuation and rescue operations and relief projects. In addition, the evacuation plan should identify open spaces and buildings to be used as evacuation centers. These can function as described by Arnold, Chen, Deichmann et al. (2006: 149).

  • Temporary shelters and refuges
  • Hospitals, possibly in existing buildings with stored supplies and basic medical equipment
  • Information centers, with uninterrupted linkages to the central communications system
  • Supply distribution points for basic survival supplies, such as water, food, and blankets
  • Sanitary facilities, including toilets, showers, and waste disposal units.

To develop evacuation plans and carry out the tasks outlined above, maps showing the most exposed areas to flood risk should be available.  EWS should also be in place to give advance notice of an impending flood allowing evacuation plans to be put into action. Even when a flood is not as severe as predicted, these preparations help test evacuation plans and inform the communities as to the nature of flood risk.


Provision of flood shelters and refuges

As stated in UNDP (2009:36): “Shelter is likely to be one of the most important determinants of general living conditions and is often one of the largest items of non-recurring expenditure.”

Shelters and refuges must, as a minimum:

  • Provide protection from the climate conditions
  • Provide space to live and store personal belongings
  • Ensure dignity, privacy, safety and emotional security.

In most emergencies there is a common basic need for shelters or refuges. However, issues such as the type and the design of the shelter, the required materials, by whom it is constructed, and the duration it is expected to last, will vary significantly according to the situation. Vulnerability analysis can identify the basic needs and priorities of the affected population in relation to shelters. Safe areas for flood shelters or refuges may include:

  • Schools
  • Religious meeting places (such as temples, churches, mosques)
  • Community centers
  • Higher ground (such as roofs, upper floors, embankments)
  • Military installations
  • Barracks.

Location and size of shelters and refuges

The need for the location and size of shelters and refuges needs to be decided in consultation with the communities. Transportation between the shelters and social and work locations for the displaced population should be considered. Existing social practices, and the provision and maintenance of shared resources (such as water, sanitation facilities and cooking) should be taken into consideration in the design of shelters and also in the allocation of space within shelters and plots. The plot layout in the evacuation centers must preserve the privacy and dignity of individual households.

The use of materials and the type of shelter that are most commonly used among refugees or the local population is to be preferred for the construction of shelters. The design of the shelter must follow the simplest principles and structures. The provision of a solid and robust roof is the main requirement, and even when a complete shelter cannot be provided, adequate roofing should always be the priority.

Plastic tarpaulins can be easily found in most cases. Tents are not always the best type of shelter because it is not easy to live in them and also they cannot provide adequate protection against extreme climate conditions. Nevertheless, in certain cases, tents may be used as storage facilities, or to set up hospitals, schools and other facilities. The success of the evacuation centers highly depends on these facilities.

Communications between shelters and refuges

The success of an evacuation plan is highly dependent on the efficacy of the communication systems. Established communication systems must ensure that the relevant authorities are promptly informed, for example by radio or telephone. The sharing of information is essential to achieve a better understanding of the problems. Coordination among all those involved in an evacuation operation is necessary to assure that the evacuation plan is being implemented successfully.

Key lessons learnt

Evacuation plans minimize the risks and impacts of flooding for the population of cities and towns.

Relevant case studies and examples
Literature sources
Arnold, M., Chen, R.S., Deichmann, U., Dilley, M., Lerner-Lam, A.L., Pullen, R.E. and Trohanis, Z. ed. 2006. Natural Disaster Hotspot Case Studies. Washington, DC: World Bank Hazard Management Unit.
UNDP (United Nations Development Program). 2009. Emergency Relief Items, Compendium of Generic Specifi cations. Geneva: UNDP.
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