Creating a Family Emergency Plan

What if? 

What if disaster struck and you weren’t at home with each of your family members or beloved pets? What would you do? Would you have a family emergency plan that automatically goes into place leaving your mind at ease because everyone knows where to be, how to communicate and has the necessary supplies to comfortably hunker down until disaster passes or help arrives? 

If you are in a cold sweat right now asking yourself, “What would I do?”, read on. 

According to the US Department of Homeland Security these are the four basic questions you need to answer to begin creating your family emergency plan:

  1. How will I receive emergency alerts and warnings
  2. What is my shelter plan?
  3. What is my evacuation plan?
  4. What is my family/household communication plan?

Gathering this information and creating a plan for your family will save panic and terror if disaster strikes. 

Emergency alerts and warnings might be unreliable through TV or internet, as electricity might be scarce depending on your specific situation. In Canada there is Alert Ready, which sends notices and alerts through radio as well as TV and phones. A battery powered or crank powered radio will also help you stay connected until electricity and internet are stable again.

It is a good idea to identify three different types of shelters: a neighborhood shelter, out of neighborhood shelter and out of town shelter. Identify the closest shelters to you in case of flood, fire, tornado, earthquake, whatever your potential disaster might be. If your disaster is personal and drives you from your home, for instance a fire, pick a neighborhood meeting point: a friend’s house, convenient store or park etc. If your area is struck by a hurricane, tornado or other localized disaster pick an out of neighborhood meeting point such as a school, community center, friend or family member’s home to meet at. Depending on the scope of the disaster, you might designate a special spot out of town to meet: a cottage or lake house, a family member who lives out of town, etc. You know your specific situation, pick spots and include it in the plan. 

Many cities that are affected by natural disasters have designated evacuation routes. Familiarize yourself with these routes. Are you familiar with back roads or less traveled paths? Ensure you put together google maps and other resources to include in your plan. 

Communicating among family members during a disaster can be the number one stressor. If there is a disaster downtown while you’re at work and you’re unable to get a hold of family to let them know you are OK, an unnecessary panic will spread through your crew. Ensure you have a plan in place – create a list of important numbers that everyone has – save this on your phone and post it on the fridge. Try texting first. If phone lines are clogged and you can’t get through it might be easier to send a text as it takes far less bandwidth. A text will also save and send when the bandwidth becomes available ensuring news is sent asap. My next blog will delve deeper into putting together a communication plan, including printouts and step by step instructions.

Once you have the outline of a family emergency plan in place decide where to store it. I suggest a hard copy and a digital copy, as you might not be home when a disaster arrives. I like to keep everything in Evernote. This is a centralized location I can access anywhere and so can my family members. With the information readily available I can rest knowing everyone knows the plan. I have also included all important numbers directly in my contacts in case internet is slow and I’m unable to access the full plan.  

Putting together a family emergency plan can be quick and fun. Ensure everyone knows the plan, practice if necessary and remind your household of it often. Display a copy of your plan in your home and save a copy on a digital space you can access even if the internet is down, like Evernote or Dropbox.