There’s no doubt that emergency situations are hectic. When you add family members to the equation and the amount of chaos can double or even triple. In an emergency situation, the ability to act quicky and calmy can be the difference between life and death for you and your loved ones.
Many times an unexpected natural disaster or other crisis, leaves minutes or even seconds to avoid injury or escape. Because of this, a plan of action is not only a good idea but also completely necessary to survival.
Even if you have hours or days advance warning of an emergency situation, it won’t be enough if you aren’t prepared ahead and ready to act quickly when the evacuation decision is made.
To help you prepare your family for a catastrophe, consider each of the points in the plan below. These quality recommendations, can help you create a bulletproof emergency plan.
#1. Prep for the disasters that are most likely for your region FIRST
Different climates require different methods to survive. For instance, in the New Orleans area it would be prudent to prepare for hurricanes. In the San Francisco area, it’s wise to prepare for earthquakes.
Take your local weather into account. Level five hurricanes, like Katrina, require fleeing before impact. For earthquakes and hurricanes, it is more logical to designate a safe room such as a basement or any ground level space with limited exposure. Safe rooms should only be used as a last resort. Planning ahead can often avoid danger.
A governmental breakdown will be similar in all areas because human nature is universal. However, to keep your family safe, have a plan for possible natural disasters as well.
- What natural disasters have occurred in your local area in the last five or ten years? Make a list of these.
- What man made emergencies have occurred? Chemcal spill, power outage, power plant accident, oil spill, etc. What is the likelihood of similar events happening again in your area?
- Which regional disasters or emergencies are common in the area?
- Are there personal emergencies to plan for?
- What nationwide events or emergencies have happened or are predicted?
For each of the above prompts, make a list of situations that are likely. Do your research to verify your list is as accurate as possible. Ask neighbors or elderly relatives in the area what kind of additional unusual events have occurred in the area in their lifetime?
#2. Create simple, easy to follow steps
You should make instructions so simple a six year could easily follow along,because if you are unconscious or missing, your kids might have to follow it! In the middle of extreme stress, this will make it much easier for family members and children to act logically.
An example would be, “If there is a fire in the night, everyone meet outside the house by the tree in the front yard. If the house and yard is flooding and we get separated, meet at the church on the hill.”
The meeting place outside the house could be anything that is close to the home such as a school, a park, a playground, or anything your family will immediately recognize and can easily travel to on foot.
It should have some type of shelter if needed and be somewhat central. If you have multiple possible locations, choose the one closest to where the youngest members of the group might be
Periodically quiz your family on these simple steps. Make sure they are memorized. In a sense, preparing for a disaster is like studying for an exam, only failing could be fatal in this case.
The more you drill, the more successful you will be when the situation is at hand. Unlike drills at school, emergency drills should happen unexpectedly (at least for one adult) and should occur at inconvenient times such as the middle of the night, early morning, or during dinner.
- Do we have a meeting place if we are separated?
- Where is it?
- Do we need an alternative meeting place for specific disasters or emergencies (ie. Tornado or earthquake versus flood, housefire, or home invasion)?
- What’s the meeting plan if a crisis occurs while in a public place like the grocery store, a mall, the county fair, or a large festival, sporting event, or concert?
- How will we meet up if a crisis occurs during work/school hours?
- What is the procedure if someone doesn’t arrive at the meeting place?
- How long do we wait? Where do we go if the meeting place seems or become unsafe?
- If someone is injured or can’t get to the meeting place, how is that communicated to others in the group?
- Which neighbors or businesses in your home or school neighborhood are safe spaces if needed? Make sure you confirm with someone at each identified safe space how to communicate to others in the group if a child arrives during an emergency.
- Which places or people in your neighborhood should children avoid during a disaster or emergency?
It’s critical for children and young adults to understand not only what is expected of them, but what types of things trigger a change in the meeting place.
Some children may cling to a meeting place even after it is unsafe because that’s what the plan was or because they are not leaving without mom or dad.
Make sure you give your children permission to change the plan if they are unsafe and tell them how to communicate a change to adults in the group or outside of the area.
#3. Create a Communications Plan
If a family member gets lost or stranded in a disaster situation, the local communication tools may be broken or unpredictable. To get around this, designate an out of state person for any lost individual to contact. Make sure the man or woman is a family member or a close family friend to ease communication within the whole group.
The contact person can figure out where the person is and if they are healthy and safe. Eventually, this information may be able to be transferred to the larger group. Moreover, being able to talk to someone they know will keep the isolated family member more positive and hopeful.
In a disaster, cell phone coverage is often limited or non-existent because most of the population will be on calling and texting simultaneously. To prevent this, prepare for each family member to have a walkie-talkie. This will allow you to communicate if cell phones fail.
Of course, the range will be limited which is why having an out-of-state contact person (discussed above) and system for leaving notes are also is a great ideas.
- Who is our contact person in our neighborhood? This should be someone you trust and someone who has contact information for family members, including your out of state contact person.
- Who is the designated out of state contact person? What is their phone number, street address, etc?
- What happens if emergency contacts don’t answer the phone or text? Talk about how often call back, what to say in a voicemail message or text, who to call next, and what to do if you can’t reach anyone.
- What are the emergency services numbers in our area? Include non-emergency numbers which may be working because not as many people will know to use those numbers.
- Designate an area to leave notes for each other if you are separated and phones or other devices aren’t working.
- Make sure your family knows to keep text messages and notes short and to the point. Simple messages like “I am safe. On my way to our meeting place B” work best. Don’t give away your location for strangers to follow you.
- Do you have access to walkie-talkies? Can everyone use them properly? Where are the replacement batteries kept? What channel does our family use?
#4. Routinely Practice Your Escape Plans
Practice is key to survival. It is important to have an evacuation plan for multiple, plausible scenarios and drill them repeatedly. Fire drills may have been annoying at school, but now you understand they served a purpose.
When your family understands the procedures for each escape plan, quiz them on the steps at least once every six months. This will keep it fresh in their minds.
- Where are fire extinguishers located in the home?
- How and where do you turn off electricity to the home? Natural Gas? Water?
- Where are the tools for turning off utilities located?
- Go over security alarm codes and procedures so any member of the family can contact emergency services personnel, lock/unlock doors, or reset an alarm if needed.
- Designate a safe room or area of your home
- Stockpile safe room with supplies and other resources you will need if you have to take shelter there.
- Is all equipment working properly? Create a schedule to routinely check and perform maintenance or replace as needed.
- Smoke detectors
- Fire extinguishers
- First aid supplies
- Bug out bags
- Get home bags
- EDC gear
- Food stockpile (check expiration dates, inspect for spoilage, etc.)
When chaos hits, panic sets in, and thinking is more difficult. Practice will hone instinct and that will kick in automatically.Of note, over-drilling is possible. Don’t make your family hate the procedure.
Eventually, this will cause negative results. Praise success and re-educate for any mistakes. Try to make it fun and give children rewards for remembering steps.
Malfunctioning equipment will immediately make any plan difficult to follow for your family. The greatest benefit doing drills will give you in a survival scenario is the ability to remain calm. Panic will only cause problems and stops things from moving at a nice, speedy pace.
You want your family to act on instinct without having to think. If a disaster almost feels like just another drill, you’ve done your job. Malfunctioning equipment will immediately make any plan difficult to follow for your family.
#5. Make a Folder with Important Identification Information
People are often forced to leave governmental documents in a disaster situation. It takes too much to gather all of them before fleeing. To get around this, either print a Microsoft Word document or hand-write a note with all the necessary information.
Keep it hidden in your wallet or purse with another copy in a fireproof safe. An alternate option would be to copy important documents and keep them together in an easy to grab folder.
- Good things to have on this list are driver’s license numbers
- insurance policy numbers
- prescription drug information
- blood type
- emergency contact number
- your doctor’s name and number.
- your license plate number
- Birth certificates
- Social security cards
- Print pictures of your family members. If they become separated from the group, you can hand them out to strangers and gather info on their location. A simple plan like this one could be the difference between life and death.
#6. Draw a Floor Plan
An easy way to get family members to know what to do is to get a map of the house and draw out different escape routes for different scenarios. This will give them something to study when you are not in the middle of a drill and help them visualize the escape.
Make sure to draw arrows to escape routes. Don’t place furniture in front of these exits and make sure to adjust maps for any changes to the house layout.
Also, the map will make it much easier on people who may be in the house when an unexpected disaster strikes who are not familiar with your house. Just make sure they understand the paths and what to do, and they can use the floor plan to guide them to safety. It is prudent to also draw a map to a nearby, safe location if the area around the house becomes unsafe.
- Do we have a map of our home escape routes?
- What is our main bug out route if evacuation is needed?
- Alternate bug out routes?
- Secure street and topography maps of local and regional area
- Draw or otherwise create a map of potential fresh water sources near your home and along your bug out routes
- Identify or mark safe shelter locations and meeting places on your map
#7. Learn Safety Skills
There are many inexpensive First Aid and CPR classes often taught by former fireman or nurses and occur at gathering places such as the YMCA or a hotel. Learning these skills is simple, easy, and could be the difference between a family member surviving or dying.
- First aid/CPR, including suturing
- Child CPR
- Water Safety
- Bike Safety
- Self Defense/Personal Protection
- Firearm safety
#8. Have Alternate Forms of Communication
In a disaster, cell phone coverage is often limited or non-existent because most of the population will be on calling and texting simultaneously. To prevent this, prepare for each family member to have a walkie-talkie. This will allow you communicate if cell phones fail.
Of course, the range will be limited which is why having an out-of-state contact person (discussed above) is a great idea. It will make it so walkie-talkies are not the only option.
Another way to communicate is to designate an area to leave notes for each other if you are separated. This makes the survival outcome a bit up to the elements, but it is a good idea for another layer of protection from leaving a member isolated.
Make sure your family knows to keep these notes short and to the point. Simple messages like “I am safe. I am located at the school” work best. There is no need for a poem.
#9. Learn How Your Children’s School Plans
If a disaster happens while your children are in school, knowing how the institution plans to act will be the easiest way to get in contact with them. They will likely have a safe place either inside the school or outside for retrieval.
Worst case, the weather will make it unsafe to travel there. The best thing to do is make sure the school has a proper plan before a disaster strikes. They should be more than willing to go over their steps with parents. If anything feels weakly thought out, let the institution know and coordinate with other parents to make a change.
#10. In Case of a Government Round Up, Prepare to Bug Out
In the worst-case scenario, the society at large will not be your friend. Avoid government camps at all costs. This will likely mean a large amount of movement over a widespread area. Make sure to have plenty of non-perishable food and figure out where to find clean water.
Your bug out bag should include:
- Water and water purification system
- Shelter Materials
- Firearms and ammunition
- First aid supplies
- Cash in small denominations
- Some bartering items
- Pet food and care items
- Personal hygiene items
- Fire starting materials
- Communication gear
See our full BOB items list here.
#11. Create a Neighborhood Watch or Mutual Aid Group
Part of creating your customized emergency plan needs to incorporate other people. No man is an island, and this is never truer than during and immediately after an emergency event.
Discuss your emergency plan with friends and relatives, both those who live in your area and those who live in other areas. Make sure your relatives are aware of your emergency communication plan and know what to do if they are contacted by someone in your family or group.
Keep emergency contact information up to date and ask them to let you know right away if phone numbers or other contact information changes so you can update your plan.
Because everyone has busy schedules, many neighborhoods have adopted technology to help them organize a neighborhood watch group. Find a platform that is verified as legitimate through your local law enforcement agency.
In our area, we use NextDoor.com. It’s an online site, with safety procedures in place to verify that members actually live in the neighborhood. Residents enter their address, verify it through one of the safety procedures, and are matched with the group that is in their area.
Our neighborhood watch group quickly grew to encompass neighbors on more than 20 streets in our immediate neighborhood. Even though neighborhood watch groups are primarily for monitoring and updating one another about suspicious activity or possible criminal activities in the area, being part of a neighborhood watch group has many benefits when SHTF.
Although you have to be cautious of OPSEC procedures, it is a good idea to get to know the neighbors and those who live in and around your home. Through a neighborhood watch group, you can learn who is most vulnerable, who is trained in firearms or other defense techniques, and which neighbors have similar interests to yours and even which neighbors might be open to planning for emergencies as a group.
If you live on a cul-de-sac or in a gated community, for example, you can boost your chances of survival if a group of you work together to keep intruders and strangers out.
Being in good shape will also help. You will not be able to transition from being a couch potato to surviving in the wilderness and neither will your family. Make family time spent in the woods, whether it be hunting or camping. Don’t ignore fitness as part of planning.
Any prepper, no matter how rugged, will fail without a plan. Make sure your family is on the same page. Make sure you have steps for multiple scenarios. Have that and follow the tips above, and you’ll be so much more prepared than any family that hasn’t been practicing.
updated by Megan Stewart on 09/09/2019