Between Japanâ€™s quake and the Mideastâ€™s impromptu makeover, the State Departmentâ€™s already had to evacuate citizens from six nations this year. (Fleeing is sometimes voluntary for government employees; private citizens can always choose to stay.) The Feds have a playbook for abetting escape from the most uncertain parts of our uncertain worldâ€”just donâ€™t expect a free ride.
The Libyan Evacuation by the Numbers
32: Americans who left via charter flight before access to the Tripoli airport became restricted.
183: Number who left via the Maria Dolores ferry, which featured frosted glass, leather seats, and a steel-and-burlwood bar.
18: Height, in feet, of the waves Maria Dolores sailed into.
9: Hours it took to get from Tripoli to Malta, where many passengers were treated for dehydration from seasickness.
The event that triggers an evacuation. In Libya, it seems to have been a rambling Seif Qaddafi speech that concluded, â€œWe will fight until the last man, until the last woman, until the last bullet.â€
Expats embassies informally rely on to contact other citizens. Officials also keep lists of hotels frequented by Americans.
What it sounds like. In Libya, it was the seaport in central Tripoli, across the street from a Radisson hotel.
Reasons to Flee
In a 2007 survey, embassy officials named the issues they thought most likely to force them to order evacuations.
26%: General Civil Disorder
81%: Protests and Demonstrations
43%: Avian Flu
6%: Conventional War
8%: Chemical, Biological, Radiological, or Nuclear Threats
21%: Non-Bird-Flu Disease Outbreaks
66%: Natural Disasters
Restrictions May Apply
Travelers must agree in writing to reimburse the State Department at prevailing commercial rates. (Itâ€™s the law.) Says Usiel Meraz Cerna, a U.S. citizen and teacher in Libya who was on the ferry out: â€œWeâ€™ve yet to receive the bill and have absolutely no idea how much it might be. Weâ€™re actually kind of scared, especially since weâ€™re unemployed because our jobs were in Tripoli.â€
Generally limited to one suitcase and a carry-on item.
The State Department typically forbids all but service animals from traveling; Americans on the Tripoli ferry were able to bring their critters but have to submit them to a six-week health quarantine in Malta.
The Way Station
Itinerant foreign-service officers cool their heels at the Oakwood temporary-housing complex outside D.C. The facilityâ€™s features include:
• Tennis center
• Sand volleyball
• â€œRelaxation loungeâ€
• Sunday continental breakfast
• Hydro-massage spa
• â€œA sumptuous nightâ€™s sleep to rival any top-of-the-line hotel.”