Veronica With Four Eyes

What To Pack When Evacuating A Dorm

There’s many reasons why someone may have to evacuate a dorm- flooding, smoke, gas leak, power outage, infectious disease outbreak, investigations, or similar. Whatever the reason, students are often given 20 minutes or less to pack items before evacuating or transitioning into emergency housing. As part of my dorm emergency preparedness series, here are my picks for what to pack when evacuating a dorm. All of these items fit in a backpack and large tote bag, though some larger items may require larger containers such as a rolling bin. In this situation, food/water are not being factored in as items to take, as this is more about evacuating the dorm room itself.

In the large tote bag


While it may need to be washed after getting to the next destination, bring as many bed items as possible when first evacuating. This includes mattress pad, sheets, pillows, and blankets. While not everything may be able to come at once, bringing foundation items will be tremendously helpful and ensure a good night’s rest, which can help with reducing stress from having to evacuate. You can also stuff clothing items inside of the bedding items, i.e put jeans in a pillowcase.


It’s important to bring clothing that can easily be cleaned and that does not wrinkle easily. Here is a sample list of clothing items to pack for a few weeks away, with various weather conditions. This assumes you have access to laundry. I timed myself grabbing these items and it took less than five minutes.

  • 7 shirts
  • 3 pairs of pants
  • 2 sweaters
  • 2 jackets
  • 1-2 pairs of pajamas
  • 2 pairs of shoes
  • As much underwear and socks as you can grab
  • Any special uniforms, i.e band, work, or sports uniform
  • Laundry stuff

Specialty items

Put any specialty items such as an instrument, assistive technology, or other important things in a safe container, like a backpack, and make sure it is transported properly. Also take any documentation for the devices, such as paperwork or labels. I recommend taking an item only if you think you will use it multiple times.


Save the computer! If it’s a large desktop computer, use bed items to pad it and pack it last. Housing often provides students with a rolling bin to store items when evacuating, and this item should go in last. I would ask a staff member for help when transporting this.

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Take wallets or purses along with government issued ID, health insurance card, or any other important documents. Keep these items on your person, and do not let them out of sight. These are a pain to replace, and may also be requested by staff members depending on the circumstances surrounding the evacuation, especially if you end up needing to seek medical attention. Also make sure to have your student identification card, as this may be needed for accessing resources at the university such as temporary housing.

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Having a backpack to hold several small but important items is extremely helpful when evacuating a dorm. This is different than the tote bag for clothes and bedding, which will be carried separately. In addition to another change of clothes, I recommend adding the following items:


While these are fairly easy to replace if there is no room to bring them, it’s important to replenish them quickly. Some of the items to bring, in order from most to least critical, include:

  • Deodorant
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Mouthwash
  • Body wash
  • Shampoo/conditioner
  • Razor
  • Toilet paper (this may be provided in emergency housing, which is why it is at the bottom)


Take any and all medication and, like IDs, keep it on your person or in the backpack, and do not let it out of sight. Have original prescription labels handy in case questions arise.


Have a fish? Put it in a small cup, water bottle, or container, and empty out the rest of the tank, which can then be put in a backpack. Betta fish can also fit perfectly in an empty Starbucks drink cup. If you can’t take the pet, alert staff members that there is still a pet in the room- someone will likely bring it later.

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Familiar item

Having a familiar stuffed animal, piece of jewelry, or other reminder of home can be very calming in chaotic situations, especially a dorm evacuation. Again, keep this item in sight, preferably in the backpack.

Final thoughts

While ideally no one would ever need to use this list, I have had to evacuate my dorm more than once in college and knowing what to pack when evacuating a dorm has helped me tremendously with staying calm and dealing with whatever situation led to the evacuation in the first place. For more posts on dealing with emergencies in college, check out my related college emergency preparedness posts below!

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What To Pack When Evacuating A Dorm. Ten things to pack when evacuating a college dorm due to smoke, illness, safety, weather, or other dangerous situations