21 Ways to Use a DeLorme Atlas to Plan Emergency Evacuations

Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s  house is not a bad evacuation plan at all as long as you have a working vehicle and enough gas to reach your destination. However, not all evacuation routes are that simple, and sometimes you need a detailed map to plan primary, secondary, and even tertiary routes in times of trouble.

Humans are creatures of habit and many of us could probably drive to work, school, the grocery store, or our favorite restaurant with our eyes closed. But in an emergency, a natural disaster, for example, could we get home or to another safe location from those places and how many different routes could we use?

The problem with any passageway, be it a dirt road, city street, or interstate highway, is that they can easily become impassable for a variety of reasons:

  • Flooding
  • Large scale traffic jams
  • Rock or mud slide
  • Multi-vehicle accident — even an accident involving a single vehicle can easily stop traffic
  • Street damage due to an earthquake
  • Riots or violent crime
  • Wildfires
  • Blizzards
  • Roadblocks — by law enforcement or other authorities or by 2-legged predators

Evacuation routes can be planned well in advance, traversed multiple times to help with familiarity, and shared with family members. It’s vital to have multiple, planned routes, marked on a map, because the odds favor one or more of those routes becoming impassable.

Those routes should head in different directions: north, south, east, and west. If you’re at home and learn of a wildfire just a couple of miles to the east and your only planned evacuation route heads in that direction, you’re in trouble! Also, the routes should be prioritized with Route A being the preferred route for familiarity, best direct route, ease of travel, access to gas stations, banks, grocery stores, etc. Route B, Route C, and so on should be marked on the map and be included on occasional practice runs, but those routes will be less preferable for any number of reasons: rough roads, a longer route, fewer amenities along the way, etc.

Use the DeLorme Atlas for evacuation route planning

One of the best resources I’ve found for this type of planning is my DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer. These very large atlases can be found in bookstores and online and there’s one atlas per state in most cases. I bought mine on Amazon.

The DeLorme maps are extremely detailed and as I browsed through mine, I came across a multitude of helpful features. Here are some from my list, along with my notes for their potential usefulness:

1. Hundreds of back roads, marked as thin, red lines, are included in the DeLorme Atlas. These little known routes might help you get from Point A to Point B, if other routes are blocked.

2. Different types of roads are marked, which is helpful in determining the type of vehicle(s) used for bugging out. Be sure to check out each route in person to determine whether or not your vehicle will be able to handle road conditions.

3. Reservoirs are clearly marked, allowing you to plan a route that takes advantage of this water source or avoid a possible flooding area.

4. Airports of all sizes are indicated. If flying away from the danger zone is an option, you can look for multiple routes to get to the airport. At smaller airports you might be able to find a pilot for hire.

5. You can easily avoid bridges as your make your plans. Bridges can be washed out or become choke points in a mass evacuation.

6. Because this particular map is so very detailed, it allows you to plan multiple routes with a pretty good idea of what you can expect to find along the way.

7. You’ll find railroads marked on the DeLorme maps. If you’re evacuating on foot, it could be handy to follow these routes, since you know they’ll lead to populated areas, and you’ll know ahead of time which areas those are so you can either avoid them or not.

8. Military sites are indicated. In a dire emergency, you could head there for help.

9. Along highways, rest areas are marked. At the very least, you’ll find water and toilets at these, but, depending on the location and circumstances, they aren’t always a safe place to stop.

10. The DeLorme maps include charts showing what types of wildlife are in the area for fishing and hunting. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be successful in your fishing and hunting endeavors, but at least you’ll know which animals to look for.

11. A very important feature are the hiking trails that are indicated. There are certainly more trails to be found, but having these already marked is a big help if you must evacuate on foot.

12. Campgrounds are also a feature of the map. If you have absolutely nowhere else to go, you can head for those. If you have a head start on the majority of evacuating people, you might find a prime spot at a well-equipped campground. Otherwise, you can head for a lesser known campground at a state park.

13. The DeLorme atlases are huge, which is a big help for seeing all the details. You can always tear out the pages you really need, laminate them, and keep them in an emergency kit. Keep the rest of the book handy, though, because you never know when you’ll need to expand your planned evacuation route further than you originally planned.

14. Canal and dam systems are marked, making it easier to find water sources.

15. Lakes, even small ones, can be found on the DeLorme maps. If you know how to fish, be sure to include basic fishing gear in your emergency kits or just always have them packed in your vehicle. Planning on drinking lake water? Be sure to have a really good water purifier/filter, such as the Sawyer Point Zero Two Water Purifier.

16. The DeLorme maps provide topographical information, so you have an idea of the elevation of your location and route. During a rainy season or hurricane, this can help you avoid areas that are likely to flood.

17. You’ll also find information about the type of terrain in different areas. At a glance, you’ll be able to locate wetlands, sandy areas, forests, and the like. All helpful to know when planning your route and where you’ll stop overnight, if necessary. If you’re planning to walk, this information can help you plan ahead for the right type of footwear, gear, and shelter, as well as some of the basic survival skills you’ll need for a particular type of terrain.

18. There is a separate DeLorme atlas for every state. If you think your route(s) may take you into neighboring states, get those atlases as well. Since they are mapped by the same company, the map markings will be consistent from state to state.

19. Where lakes and rivers are marked, you’ll also find boat ramps marked. This could be handy if evacuating by water is part of your plan. Also, where there are boat ramps there are also small businesses that sell food, water, and boating related gear.

20. State and national land is indicated on each map. If you really want to get away from it all, you could head to those areas.

21. Detailed maps such as the DeLorme atlases are great for kids learning how to use a real, paper map. Teach them how to use a map key, compass rose (N, S, E, W), and have them help you plan different routes for evacuations, vacations, or trips to Grandma’s house. Our kids are already too reliant on electronics and map reading skills could save a life someday.


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