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How Expats Living Abroad Can Prepare for Emergency Evacuation

So far 2011 has seemingly brought the world nothing but turmoil and stress.  Turmoil on the streets seemed to begin in Tunisia before spreading to Egypt – and now it pervades throughout areas of the Middle East where citizens of states and nations from Libya to Bahrain are seeking to overthrow oppressive regimes.  This instability has been compounded by natural disasters in New Zealand and now Japan.

No one in the world is immune to this level of stress on an international scale – and many British nationals living abroad as expatriates have been directly impacted and affected by the havoc and unrest, the tension and the trauma.  Anyone living in a currently insulated location will read headlines of British nationals being advised to evacuate certain nations – but if the worst were to happen and the Foreign Office were to declare it unsafe for you to remain living abroad, would you know how to prepare for emergency evacuation?

I’m sure many of us have given the idea of having to make a quick getaway a passing thought – but as current events are serving to show all of us, no matter where we live, situations can unravel rapidly and result in anyone potentially being impacted.  Therefore, it’s wise to have a plan in place for if you and your family have to get out of your current country quickly.  Whether you’re an expat in the Middle East highly at risk of unrest, or you’re living in a perhaps more peaceful part of the world, the following tips and ideas could just save you very valuable time one day…

Accessing Emergency or Evacuation Information and Advice When You’re Living Abroad

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is good at keeping their website very up to date with the changing status and governmental advice in relation to nations under threat or in turmoil internationally.

If you’re in an affected nation and you have access to the Internet, the FCO’s website is perhaps the best place to keep a close eye on the changing status.  News websites are also valuable – but some tend to sensationalise the situation.  Try the likes of the BBC and Reuters for more rational reporting.

Your local British embassy or consulate will be the first to receive instructions directly from the UK government relating to evacuation, so keeping in touch with them is also important, but this can be difficult in times of crisis as you and all other British nationals will be trying to access their services.

If possible remain calm and patient, and it can help to have a contact external to the nation keeping you up to date with the British government’s advice if you’re unable to access it locally.

Emergency Contacts Abroad and at Home for Expats

Have the telephone number of your nearest British embassy or consulate to hand and consider registering with the LOCATE service at the FCO.  This allows the FCO to know where you are and to be able to contact you in the event that you need to evacuate.

Establish an emergency contact person in the UK with whom you can liaise, and who you can keep up to date on your position.  This is important so that you can be found, contacted and assisted, and ultimately it will hopefully reduce your family’s worries about you.

Ensure you know the telephone numbers and contact details locally for all emergency services – they can differ from nation to nation.

Know the phone numbers for airlines and airports as well as the routes to access the consulate or embassy or the ports or airports in your nation.  Have a sat nav or a map in the car or to hand in the home at all times in case you need to refer to it or grab it and run.

Essential Advice About Travel Documents

Is your passport up to date?  If not, apply for a new one now.

In the event of an emergency situation, if you’re without your passport you may be able to apply for an Emergency Travel Document (ETD) or an Emergency Passport (EP) at your nearest British Embassy.

– To apply you will need a completed application form (available online or in paper form at your Embassy or Consulate-General.)
– Some proof of identity will be needed (your local registration/ID card, local photo driving licence or UK driving licence for example)
– Two passport photos will also be needed.
– Also take your flight itinerary if your travel plans are already known.
– Note: a fee is payable – ask the embassy/consular staff for details.

Currently in Japan, because there is such demand for assistance as well as emergency travel documents, the local embassy is open for extended hours: in the event that you will need to evacuate from your current country, the same may apply.  It will be very important for you to make direct contact with your embassy for advice so you need to know their contact details.

Knowing What to Take if You Have to Evacuate

If you believe you’re not currently at risk of evacuation, it’s probably sufficient for you to ‘just’ have an inventory list drawn up detailing what you would take if the situation were to change.  If you are in a high-risk nation however, then getting your emergency inventory together and ready to go will be critically important.

You need to ask yourself the following: “if I only had ten minutes to get out of my home, what would I take with me?”  Because in absolute reality, you may only be given 10 minutes warning in the event of a disaster or a threat.

Either make a list, or gather together the items you regard as being of high priority and keep in mind the fact that you will have to physically carry what you collect.

Whatever you decide to ‘save’ and take with you will be personal to you: but your list should probably include the likes of the following: –

Passports and ID
Essential personal papers relating to births, marriages, bank accounts, insurances and investments
Cash, travellers cheques and credit cards
Plenty of water as well as water purification tablets
First aid kit
Essential medications (such as prescribed drugs, pain-killers and anti-diarrhoea remedies for example)
Torch and spare batteries
Map and/or sat nav (and charger)
Mobile phone and charger (ideally containing all emergency contact details such as the embassy’s number, the phone number for airliners who carry from your nation’s airports, the airport numbers and contact details for family, friends and of course emergency support services’ details too (personally I would suggest you have these numbers backed up in paper form in case you lose your phone…))
High-energy food in the form of at least gels or bars
High value small items such as jewellery
Blankets or sleeping bags
Sanitary items (wet wipes can be used in many situations!)

You may want to take large high value items such as your TV, laptop or expensive artwork – but seriously, if you have to run, you will only be able to take what you can carry.

Those at high risk of evacuation should have a ready-to-run emergency evacuation pack in place for every member of the family.  If you have children, think about what you need to have to hand to look after them, and which items they will struggle to be happy without.  If you can only carry one toy, make sure it’s their favourite.

The time you spend now planning and packing will be time well invested in the event that you have to get out fast.  You could save yourself valuable minutes and ensure nothing essential or of high value is left behind.

Final Words of Emergency Evacuation Advice

Personally I can’t believe that I could flee a country in the event of an emergency and leave my pet dog behind – but of course it could come to that.  You have to think of an animal’s welfare as far as you possibly can, and see if there are any workable solutions such as asking a local national to take in your pet and shelter it if only people from your ethnic, religious or national background are at threat and need to evacuate.

However, the bottom line is that there may come a time where you have to decide between leaving and perhaps saving yourself and your family, or staying to save your pet and putting yourself at very high risk.  Please think this eventuality through in advance calmly to see if there is a solution – but if there is no solution, you may have to abandon your animals.  As stated, I cannot comprehend this reality – and I hope no one ever has to face it…

If you’re evacuating by car to another country or another location in your current nation then chances are you will be able to take your pet – so as part of your planning you will have to include their essentials with your own luggage – don’t forget to have their pet passport or records of their inoculations with your own key paperwork.

Keep the fuel tank of your car full – and talk through the potential of an evacuation with your partner and children so that you are all briefed, aware and you have each discussed what the reality could entail.  At the time you will need everyone to be pulling in the same direction and helping each other if you’re to get through it as calmly as possible.

And finally, the worst eventuality could be that you cannot return to your home abroad – so revisit your inventory list and ensure you’re taking everything you truly need and want.

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