Effectively controlling the spread of contagious illnesses has become a critical focus of disaster planning. It is likely that quarantine will be a key part of the overall public health strategy utilised during a pandemic, an act of bioterrorism or other emergencies involving contagious agents. While the United States lacks recent experience of large-scale quarantines, it has considerable accumulated experience of large-scale evacuations. Risk perception, life circumstance, work-related issues, and the opinions of influential family, friends and credible public spokespersons all play a role in determining compliance with an evacuation order. Although the comparison is not reported elsewhere to our knowledge, this review of the principal factors affecting compliance with evacuations demonstrates many similarities with those likely to occur during a quarantine. Accurate identification and understanding of barriers to compliance allows for improved planning to protect the public more effectively.