Do you know what to do when a natural disaster strikes? Do the members of your family know where to go, who to call and what to prioritise when an emergency comes up? Your answers to these questions would be yes if you already have an emergency plan. If your answer is no, don’t worry, as according to Ad Council, about half the population of the United States are with you in this boat. But we’re here to help you change that. This post is dedicated to showing you how to make a family emergency plan that you and your loved can use to prepare for emergencies; and never really be caught off guard and stranded when disaster does strike. So get your pen and notebook ready for some note taking.

Related: Home Safety Items You Should Have

Steps to making a family emergency plan

Get informed

Before anything else, you need to find out what types of emergencies could happen and how to respond to them. Fires, for instance, can start from your house either due to a faulty wiring or flammable gases. They can also spread to your house from a neighbouring burning building or from a forest or bush fire. Either way, getting informed lets you prepare your family ahead of time and educate each member of your family on actions to take in a fire incident.

Other events that can lead to emergencies are earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, tsunamis etc. Find out what disasters are common in your area and your community’s response plan. You can also visit the USGS and NOAA websites for more information. After you’ve gotten all the necessary information, you have to ensure that all members of your family are properly educated about them.

One other piece of information you should get concerns insurance. Find out from your insurer what types of hazard insurance policies they offer and how you can benefit from them. Getting the appropriate insurance cover will help you repair or replace whatever you lose in a disaster.

Decide on emergency exits, muster points and shelters

Assess each room in your house for the easiest and safest exit routes. Then practise using them and ensure that each person in your family knows how to use them. Every member of the family should take responsibility fro keep those routes free of obstacles at all times so that they’re always ready for use. Muster points are places where your family can safely meet or gather in emergencies. Pick about three: one around your home, another in your neighbourhood and one outside it. This ensures that members of your family know where to go in the event of house fire or a larger scale emergency.

When you’re choosing muster points and shelters for natural disasters, be sure to consider any plans your community might have made for such scenarios.

NB: When you’re choosing shelters in your house be sure to pick spots that aren’t near windows or openings to the outside. Popular hiding or sheltering spots include basements, closets and under staircases. The important thing is to ensure that it’s a windowless room.

Prepare a family emergency communication plan

It’s important for members of your family to be able to communicate with each other in emergencies. This is because disaster can strike when you’re at work and the kids are at school. Start your communication plan by writing down the phone numbers of every member of your household. Write down their social media handles and email addresses too. You should also include an out-of-state contact information. This is the phone number of the person at whose place your family can safely gather in the case of an evacuation. The out-of-state contact is important for a number of reasons that include ease of reach. In disaster conditions, phone lines may be jammed or down and this person can be your family’s point or contact person.

In addition to these, include the phone numbers of emergency services, medical and animal care (for your pets) providers and your insurance company. This way, you and any member of your family will be able to reach out for help and contact relevant agencies.

After you’ve made a list of these important contacts, make copies and make sure that everyone has one. Place a copy next to your home phone; make sure there’s a soft copy on your phones and put put hard copies in your wallets and in your younger children’s school bags. Discuss your communication plan as a family and review the plan together every three or six months so that changes can be made where necessary and the plan will be easy to remember. You can find a sample communication plan at ready.gov.

Pack an emergency kit or go-bag

Your emergency kit should contain essential items that can sustain you and your family until help comes or normalcy is restored. To create your emergency kit, you’ll need either a large plastic storage container or a storage bag. Which ever one you choose, it should be sturdily made and weather-resistant. Now, prepare a list of essential items or supplies that your family can survive for about a week. Your emergency kit should contain:

  • Water (a gallon for each person)
  • Non-perishable food (cans of ready-to-eat meat, fruits, vegetables, soups, granola bars etc.)
  • Non-perishable pasteurized milk
  • Baby food (if you have infants)
  • Diapers and wipes
  • First aid kit
  • Medication (pack a week’s dose of daily medications any member of your family might be on)
  • Clothing (a change of clothing for everyone)
  • Blankets
  • Emergency weather radio
  • Flashlights (in case there’s a power outage)
  • Batteries
  • Whistle
  • Emergency tents
  • Face mask (to filter airborne contaminants)
  • Personal hygiene items (soap, disinfectants, towels)
  • Basic tools (manual can opener, pliers, wrench, utility knife etc.)
  • Cell phone with charger and fully charged spare battery
  • Spare cash

These are some of the basic things that should go into your emergency kits. Take note of the expiry dates on the food and personal care items. Set a reminder on your calender or phone to replace them as at when due. The clothes you pack should also be changed yearly as children may have outgrown them. Talking about phones, consider installing a family locator app that can help you track members of your household in emergencies.

When you’re thinking about how to make a family emergency plan, don’t forget to consider every family member, including your pets. Consider their ages; and also consider any special needs at  every stage of the plan’s creation. It’s a great idea to make multiple emergency kits and store in your car and home.