When Disaster Strikes: How to Create a Family Emergency Plan

couple creating a family emergency plan while kids sit behind them

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Corinne Kalupson62
Events pro, writer, mom, chaser of dreams.
April 25, 2024 at 2:17AM UTC

If you’re like a lot of people, you’ve spent more time planning your wardrobe, grocery list or a weekend away with friends than you have creating a family emergency plan. After all, chances are good that you’ll never be affected by a natural disaster. Of course you have a healthy, distant fear of the unknown. Maybe you even have a vague idea of how you would attempt to protect yourself and your family in case of an emergency, although you likely haven’t spent much time thinking about it. That’s perfectly normal! No one wants to imagine how they’ll escape if the house is on fire or what to pack in an emergency kit. 

But consider this: while you can’t control whether you’re hit by a fire, flood or another natural disaster, you can control whether you’re caught completely off guard or not. A family emergency plan is the best way to mitigate the effects of a disaster. Having a plan and not needing it is more comforting than being in a situation where you need one and don’t know what to do.

What is a family emergency plan?

A family emergency plan, quite simply, is an outline of what to do and how to do it should the unthinkable occur. Mapping out and practicing a plan allows you to approach an unexpected situation head-on. Scary things become less so when you’re prepared. This knowledge increases the likelihood of your family’s safety if and when a disaster strikes. As with most things, the smartest move is to plan for the worst and hope for the best!

How do I make a family emergency plan?

There are four phases to creating your plan.

1. Review the “why.” 

As a family, talk through the types of emergencies that this plan may encompass. Make absolutely certain everyone understands the need for and value of a family emergency plan. Talking it through can make it less frightening should anything happen.

2. Assign tasks. 

Everyone — from the oldest to the youngest in the household, within reason — should know what they are expected to do in an emergency. Involve the whole family in that discussion, and take everyone’s input into consideration. Someone may have a different perspective or a unique ability to contribute that hasn’t occurred to you. Even children can have a role that's as simple as being assigned to and keeping an eye on a “buddy.”

3. Practice makes perfect. 

“Practice” doesn’t mean randomly discharging the fire extinguisher or throwing mattresses out of the window. Instead, schedule time to role-play each step. Do so during different seasons and varying times of day. The more familiar you are with the plan, the more rote it will become should you ever need to implement it.

What should a family emergency plan include?

All plans are not created equal, but each should have a similar, easy-to-follow framework. At the minimum, your family emergency plan should include the following:

• The emergencies for which you’re likely to be preparing.

 Think about the likelihood of a fire, flood, tornado, hurricane, blizzard, etc. in your vicinity. Be realistic about what disasters are an actual threat to the area in which you live. 

• The individual roles and responsibilities for every member of the household. 

Knowing the pieces is the first step. Choosing family members to implement those pieces is just as important. Who will be the first one out the door or be the one to grab the emergency kit? 

• Your evacuation route, if necessary, and a gathering spot, in case you get separated. 

Certain emergencies may require you to go to a lower level of the house; for others, you may need to evacuate your home or your neighborhood altogether. Create a plan for each of those scenarios and choose a specific place to reconvene.

• A communication plan.

Here, you’ll include names and phone numbers of not just the members of your household but of other emergency contacts as well. This is also a good place to have insurance and emergency medical information, too.

• An emergency kit. 

This can include things like first aid supplies, bottled water, nonperishable food, a radio, a flashlight and batteries for both. Tools can include a can opener, pliers and scissors. Don’t forget matches, trash bags and personal hygiene items. Even if you’re displaced for only 24 hours, having familiar comfort items will make the experience less challenging.

Nothing is going to stop a disaster from happening, but you can manage your response to it by putting a family emergency plan into place. Also, don’t forget that you’re not on your own! Several organizations, including both FEMA  and The American Red Cross, offer free templates to help you draft your family emergency plan. Download them, and then customize the information to suit your needs.

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