Mandatory vs. voluntary evacuations: What's the difference?

Decide whether you'll stay if a storm hits, how you'll leave if you choose to go

By Brianna Volz - Web producer, Steve Montiero - Traffic Anchor

ORLANDO, Fla. - If you've been in Central Florida for any strong storm, you know things can get pretty intense.

In the days approaching any major storm that could affect Florida, local and state government officials begins to issue mandatory and voluntary evacuation notices.

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When you hear the word "evacuate," that means conditions are expected to be pretty serious and you should start to consider what you'll do if you decide to leave your home in the event of a voluntary evacuation. What about a mandatory evacuation? Does that mean you have to leave your home, even if you don't want to?

What's the difference?

News 6 Traffic Safety Expert Steven Montiero, who spent several years with the Florida Highway Patrol, broke down the differences between the types of evacuations and why it's important to have an evacuation plan in place before you hit the road.

Voluntary evacuation

Getty Images

Vikki Sears and Paul Zielinski load household items and supplies into their car as they comply with a mandatory evacuation ahead of Hurricane Irma on September 09, 2017 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

During a voluntary evacuation, it's your choice to move from an area of danger to an area of safety either on your own or under the direction of their local authorities, according to Montiero. Under voluntary evacuation notices, there are no consequences for failing to leave, but it is still highly suggested.

Mandatory evacuation

Jack Ross from the South Carolina Highway Patrol directs traffic onto US 501 as the South Carolina government ordered that traffic use all the lanes on the route leading away from the coast to facilitate the evacuation of people ahead of the…

During a mandatory evacuation notice, things take a different turn. When local authorities issue a mandatory evacuation, it’s because things are so serious that the government recognizes it must also leave the affected area.

"When you choose to stay and ignore a mandatory notice, you are taking 100 percent responsibility for you and your family's safety," Montiero said.

Police, fire and emergency medical services are suspended at that time and while the notice is in place, first responders will not respond in the event of an emergency, as conditions are too dangerous for them, according to Montiero. 

Evacuation plans

In the event that you do choose to evacuate before a storm, you don't want to be scrambling to get out at the last second. 

To avoid additional stress at an already tense time, have your plan in place well before a storm is even in the forecast. Talk to your family about what factors will determine whether or not you choose to stay, how you'll leave if you do evacuate, what your final destination will be and how you'll get there. 

Consider the following tips, courtesy of FloridaDisaster.org, when developing your plan:

If ordered to evacuate, do not wait or delay your departure.

Tarpley Mott helps his in-laws Thomas Boyd and Gene Boyd (L-R) pack their vehicle as they evacuate their home ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence on September 12, 2018 in Myrtle Beach, United States. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)


If possible, leave before local officials issue an evacuation order for your area. Even a slight delay in starting your evacuation will result in significantly longer travel times as traffic congestion worsens.

Select an evacuation destination that is nearest to your home, preferably in the same county, or at least minimize the distance over which you must travel in order to reach your intended shelter location. 

Vehicle traffic travels along US 501 as the South Carolina government ordered that traffic use all the lanes on the route leading away from the coast to facilitate the evacuation of people ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence on…


In choosing your destination, keep in mind that the hotels and other sheltering options in most inland metropolitan areas are likely to be filled very quickly in a large, multi-county hurricane evacuation event.

If you decide to evacuate to another county or region, be prepared to wait in traffic. 

Associated Press

A car rides in the shoulder to pass other cars in evacuation traffic on I-75 N, near Brooksville, Fla., in advance of Hurricane Irma, Saturday, Sept, 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)


The large number of people in this state who must evacuate during a hurricane will probably cause massive delays and major congestion along most designated evacuation routes; the larger the storm, the greater the probability of traffic jams and extended travel times.

If possible, make arrangements to stay with the friend or relative who resides closest to your home and who will not have to evacuate. Discuss with your intended host the details of your family evacuation plan well before the beginning of the hurricane season.

If a hotel or motel is your final intended destination during an evacuation, make reservations before you leave.

Marcus Thurston and his family cut short their vacation and evacuate the South Bay Inn and Suites hotel ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence on September 11, 2018 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)


Most hotel and motels will fill quickly once evacuations begin. The longer you wait to make reservations, even if an official evacuation order has not been issued for your area or county, the less likely you are to find hotel/motel room vacancies, especially along interstate highways and in major metropolitan areas.

If you are unable to stay with friends or family and no hotels/motels rooms are available, then as a last resort go to a shelter.

Bob Cavanagh and Linda Moore (L-R) wait in an evacuation shelter setup at the Conway High School for the arrival of Hurricane Florence on September 13, 2018 in Conway, United States. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)


Remember, shelters are not designed for comfort and do not usually accept pets. Bring your disaster supply kit with you to the shelter.

Also, remember to fill up your car with gas before you leave, as it gets harder to find just before and after a storm hits.

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To see what should go in your disaster supply kit, print or download News 6's hurricane preparedness checklist to follow along while building yours.

Once the storm passes, check with your county's emergency management team and other local officials to make sure it's safe before you decide to return home. 

You can also watch News 6 for the latest on evacuations and curfews when a storm is approaching and download the free Pinpoint Weather App to get custom weather alerts from our team of meteorologists.

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For more on ways to prepare for a storm and information on what to do during and after it, visit ClickOrlando.com/Hurricane.

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