Convoy Tactics For Mass Evacuations

Convoy Tactics For Mass Evacuations

Something has gone wrong, and you can’t stay put. What is your plan? Where will you go, and how will you get there?

Regardless of where you start from (home, work, relative’s home, etc.), you should have three pre-planned places to go—just in case the first two choices are not feasible.

Your family truck/grocery-getter has just become a logistical transport-support vehicle that will be part of a focused, mission-based convoy operation. You will be interacting with friendlies, hostiles and insignificants until the mission is complete, at which time you will have arrived at your final destination.

The focus of this article covers traveling in concert with more than one vehicle. A key factor in this regard is staying together. During catastrophic events, people lose their minds—especially those who aren’t prepared. Consequently, it is paramount for friends and family members to stick together, because there is strength in numbers. Keep in mind that we are talking about vehicles in transit with one or more occupants whose intended goal is to arrive together at a predetermined location with little to no adverse incidents along the way.

Rules of the Road

Evacuation routes from threatened populated areas will be slow and stressful and will subject you to additional exposure to the very event you’re trying to escape from.
Evacuation routes from threatened populated areas will be slow and stressful and will subject you to additional exposure to the very event you’re trying to escape from.

The most common ways to become separated while moving in concert are switching lanes on a multi-lane roadway such as a major highway or interstate or while being directed to take turns at an intersection.

There are a couple of different ways to ameliorate these scenarios, some of which require practice before being thrust into said scenario. (Notice the recurring theme of practicing and preparation?) Regardless of what scenario you are faced with when driving, you must have a solid understanding of your vehicle’s potential and durability, as well as knowing your personal limits in controlling your vehicle during dynamic situations and unpredictable road conditions.

First and foremost when trying to stay together when driving, the rules of the road go out the window. If you find yourself approaching an intersection at which the traffic light is out or an officer is directing traffic, common courtesy should be an afterthought.

When it is your turn to go, gesture over your steering wheel or roll your window down and extend your arm outside (weather and safety permitting) and show by count of fingers how many vehicles are traveling in your caravan. Each vehicle should do the same, with the number of fingers matching the number of vehicles left behind it. It is important that no room is left between the convoy vehicles for a stray vehicle that is not part of your group to creep in. Rubbing a little bit of bumper paint off is not going to hurt the ability of the vehicle to continue on, so stay close.

Sure, it is going to upset the other folks who are politely waiting their turn, but adverse repercussions for not staying together can be separation by anywhere from three to 10 vehicles. This will result in missed turns, redirection to an unplanned detour (causing further separation) and/or breaking down without immediate support or becoming targeted and singled out by an opposing force, etc.

“ … you should have three pre-planned places to go—just in case the first two choices are not feasible.”

When there is a reason change lanes in moderate to heavy traffic conditions while you are trying to stay together, a little bit more planning and coordination are involved. When the vehicles in your group are moving, the odds of becoming separated increase. This is why having a plan and practicing it before you absolutely need it during a stressful event is important.

Knowing your route and where upcoming turns and deviations are will help the drivers of each vehicle judge the need to adjust speed and shift lanes (by reading traffic patterns, weather, warning signs, road conditions, etc.). No matter how many vehicles are in the convoy, the rear vehicle initiates the shift so it can block the lane in front of it, allowing the vehicles in front of it to move into the lane without another vehicle interrupting the convoy. If all the drivers in the group are on the same page and have practiced this type of driving while going on trips with family and friends, this is a simple task. For others, well, not so much.

If needed, the lead vehicle should initiate a signal—either by radio, hand or flipping the turn signal on the vehicle, at which time the others follow suit until the last vehicle receives the message and executes the block. Easy, right?

Not if you have never done it. You can’t practice these skills enough to be ready for the real thing when it decides to pay you a visit!

Changing Direction

You might find yourself approaching an impassable area and must turn around. Remember, we’re talking about multiple vehicles here, so there is a process that involves efficiency and economy of motion. Depending on the circumstances, the signal is made that a reverse in direction is necessary.

The lead vehicle will initiate this by executing a three-point turn. Instead of completing the full turn, this vehicle will remain in between the number two and three positions of the three-point turn, blocking any oncoming traffic that could interfere with or separate the group while the other vehicles execute their turns. Each vehicle stays in the same order. The only difference is that the former rear vehicle is now in the lead position, and the former lead vehicle is now in the rear position. At an appropriate time and location, the vehicles can switch positions in order to maintain the integrity of the group by keeping the navigation vehicle in the lead.

Rally Points

 Careful route planning and multiple practice runs will pay big dividends when trouble comes your way.
Careful route planning and multiple practice runs will pay big dividends when trouble comes your way.

If, for some reason, your group gets separated, it is good to have a contingency plan to rendezvous at a pre-determined location. Once there, your group should conduct a head count and status check. These locations can be hastily chosen places of opportunity or set areas that have been pre-scouted and marked on maps as part of the convoy’s predetermined plan if vehicles are separated and/or without a means of communication.

As far as communications go, redundancy and depth are recommended. Cell phones are great … until the networks are overwhelmed during a catastrophic event or you take a wrong turn. Handheld radios in the CB, FRS, GMRS and MURS frequencies are cost-effective solutions. Their only limitation is range. A step up to the HAM radio frequencies that require a license to operate will increase your range and capabilities, especially with a vehicle-mounted system with an extended antenna.

“If, for some reason, your group gets separated, it is good to have a contingency plan to rendezvous at a pre-determined location … “

Recovery equipment, such as tow straps, come-a-longs or winches, shovels and pry bars should be included in your vehicle. These can be used in a variety of circumstances, not just during mass evacuation scenarios, and can go a long way in establishing rapport with someone to whom you might be able to offer assistance.

Other skills and considerations to implement in your travel planning are your loadout and the ability to change vehicles if another goes down. As mentioned earlier, the worst time to accomplish this is when you need it the most—not while stress is up and the stakes are high. So, get out there and practice with your fellow convoy members, and you will be ahead of the game if a crisis arises.



Mass Evacuations by the Numbers

The majority of information regarding catastrophic events is reported in fatalities and monetary damages. By taking a look at these types of figures, we can estimate the number of people who travel during these times. Some of the most recent large-scale events across the country can offer a gauge to help you formulate your relocation planning for the next disaster that might affect you.


August 1992: Hurricane Andrew affected 2.4 million people in four Gulf Coast states between Florida and Louisiana by either mandatory evacuation or forced relocation by destruction of home or property.


August 2005: Hurricane Katrina led to a mass evacuation of New Orleans, Louisiana, with approximately 80 percent of the city’s population of 484,000 evacuating before the storm struck. Main recovery efforts lasted approximately three months, with ancillary support operations going on for six months. While this storm affected other states and cities, New Orleans was hit the hardest and to this day hasn’t fully recovered.


September 22, 2005: More than 3 million people were evacuated in Texas and Louisiana due to the approach of Hurricane Rita. This is the largest evacuation in U.S. history and the third-largest peacetime evacuation in modern times. The evacuation rush caused a 100-mile-long traffic jam that began in Houston and caused vehicles to overheat, break down and run out of gas.

Evacuation I-45 Woodlands Tx Hurrican Rita - Ralph LauerFort Worth Star-TelegramAPFile
I-45 Woodlands Tx Hurrican Rita – Ralph LauerFort Worth Star-TelegramAPFile

October 2007: California wildfires forced more than 900,000 people in Southern California to evacuate, making it the largest evacuation in California‘s history and the largest evacuation for fire in United States history.


August 2011: A mass evacuation stretching from North Carolina to New York involving 13 states and hundreds of thousands of residents was ordered because of Hurricane Irene and its size. The initial effects lasted for three days before residents began returning to their homes for recovery efforts.


October 2012: Hurricane Sandy left 6 million residents without power in 15 states for approximately five days, with 200,000 homeless for several months after the event.


December 2015 through January 2016: Midwest flooding of the Mississippi River covered areas where 9.3 million people live in 17 states. The hardest hit areas were in southern Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma, with hundreds of homes destroyed and thousands of people displaced.

May 2016: Approximately 88,000 people were evacuated from Fort McMurray, Canada, due to a wildfire that grew quickly out of control. This was the largest evacuation in the province of Alberta’s history. At the time of this writing, recovery efforts are still underway, and many are without homes to return to.


Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the November 2016 print issue of American Survival Guide.