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Family Emergency Plan (6 Steps for Disaster Evacuation Planning)

No matter where in the world you live—whatever the climate or region may be—the place where you pitch your tent is most likely susceptible to at least one kind of natural disaster. Between earthquakes and hurricanes, tornadoes and volcanoes, Mother Nature wields a wrathful arsenal capable of threatening the lives of everyone across the country.

The safety of you and your family is paramount. You should be ready to evacuate your family to safer ground should one of nature’s mercenaries loom on the horizon. Given the speed and unpredictability of natural disaster scenarios, prompt and speedy evacuation may be a necessity—and preparedness will be your be your best bet at keeping everyone out of harm’s way. Use these disaster survival tips to make a family emergency plan and protect you and your loved ones’ safety.

    What’s in a Family Emergency Plan?

    A family emergency plan is a terrific way to ready your family for worst-case scenarios. You can make a step-by-step guide as thorough or basic as you’d like, but having a rehearsed family emergency plan on hand could save minutes during times when lives depend on every second. At its minimum, a family emergency plan is an action agenda that outlines the preparations, communications, and procedures of your family during a disaster scenario.

    A family emergency plan may help ensure that:

    • Your family quickly escapes from harm's way
    • Your family is prepared to evacuate with the necessary belongings and supplies
    • Your family knows where to regroup should they be separated

    You should write down your family emergency plan, commit it to memory, educate all family members, and practice it well. If you need help creating a well-thought-out, play-by-play manual for when a near-disaster is at hand, we can help! Just follow the instructions below.

    1. Written Evacuation Plan

    Evacuation is a stressful scenario that most people hope they’re never forced to do. No one wants to abandon their home to chance, knowing their life’s worth of belongings and mementos may be at risk of theft or destruction. Some homeowners wait until the last possible minute to evacuate, hoping that the emergency will dissipate before it reaches their property.

    That’s a risky and often fatal strategy. Certain disaster situations—like storms, floods, and wildfires—are incredibly unpredictable, and can change in direction and severity at any moment; one hour your home is safe, the next hour it’s sitting right in the path of destruction. If you choose not to evacuate because you believe in your ability to weather the storm, or don’t think you’re in danger of the natural disaster at hand, you could end up being the people you see air rescued on TV… or worse. Many fatalities occur because residents ignore advice and wait too long to evacuate. You should never place you and your family at risk for the sake of material items.

    Your family emergency plan should contain instructions on what to do if you’re ordered to evacuate, streamlining the steps required to get out the door as soon as possible. When establishing evacuation protocols, you should consider which natural disaster threat your family is most likely to face and how quickly you’ll need to respond. For example, if you’re watching a hurricane expected to hit shore in a couple days, you’ll have more time to pack up your belonging before standing in the way of destruction; however, in the event that a spontaneous wildfire jumps a freeway and threatens your home, you might only receive a two-minute warning before it’s too late, in which case a well-prepared evacuation plan will become incredibly useful.

    You should also take into consideration the ages of your family members and your family’s special and medical needs, as well as the following factors:

    Evacuation Route

    The last thing you should be doing is searching for GPS instructions during an evacuation; know which roads take you to safety ahead of time. Your route should avoid areas that might be made dangerous by the hazards at hand. For example, if you live in an area that’s at risk of flooding, don’t plan on taking any roads that travel near floodplains, rivers, or other bodies of water.

    Of course, you can’t always predict where emergency situations will occur, or what evacuation routes will be inhibited. Plan multiple evacuation routes so that if one is cut off, you’ll have a second or third option, and if you’re in a situation where you know you might need to evacuate, stay up-to-date on road closures.

    Remember, your evacuation route should ultimately take you to a safe shelter that’s removed from the disaster area.

    Transportation

    What if you don’t have access to a vehicle? Or what if a road-damaging event occurs that renders driving impossible?

    Even if you have a vehicle, you should plan an evacuation route that includes a backup means of transportation.

    Plan an evacuation route that utilizes an alternative mode of transit:

    • Identify alternative modes of transit and their proximity to your home
    • Know where there's a local bus station or train station within walking distance
    • Consult your local government website to find evacuation services for citizens without vehicles
    • Make arrangements with family or friends that have access to a vehicle

    Protect Your Home

    If you suspect that evacuation is imminent, be sure to unplug all appliances and electrical equipment, lock your windows and doors, and consider shutting off your gas. If there’s a risk of flooding, move furniture and appliances to a higher floor. Your family emergency plan might designate these tasks to different family members so they’ll get finished faster.

    If you’ve received a notice to evacuate immediately, don’t waste any time rearranging your home! Leave as soon as possible. Protecting your family is far more important than protecting personal items.

    Evacuating Children

    Children may be naturally frightened during an evacuation, but it’s important to remember that children emulate the behavior of their parents. If adults appear overly frightened and in a state of panic, then children are more likely to be frightened and panicked, too. If adults stay calm and collected, it’s more likely the children will also be calm.

    If you have a child, try to explain the reality of the situation with an honest but hopeful point of view. If the child has a preferred stuffed animal, toy, or blanket, be sure to bring it during the evacuation so that the child may have it for comfort. Talking about your family emergency plan and possible evacuation protocols in advance will help keep everyone calm should you ever need to put the plan into action.

    Disaster Preparedness Guide for Elders and Disabled Persons

    In an evacuation, you might be without standard food, shelter, and supplies. For elderly and disabled persons, make sure you bring the necessary materials such as:

    • Wheelchairs and walkers
    • Shower chair/tub-transfer equipment
    • Ample supply of backup power for electrical devices
    • Medicine/medical supplies

    Some family members might need handicap-accessible transportation, so be sure to make proper transportation arrangements for them, if necessary.

    If your elderly or disabled loved ones live elsewhere and you need to reach them in an emergency, be aware that the emergency block access to their home or your ability to contact them. In the event those persons cannot be reached, make sure that they’re aware of evacuation routes and transportation services, and that they have an emergency kit in their home.

    Pet Evacuation Plan

    Don’t forget about your furry friends! When you evacuate, make sure you bring:

    • Food and water for your pet
    • Shelter for your pet such as a cage or kennel. If your pet typically sleeps in a larger piece of pet furniture, bring comfortable blankets or towels for them to sleep on, instead.

    Keep in mind that many emergency shelters don’t allow pets, so you should make a list of nearby shelters that allow you to bring domestic animals.

    Meeting Locations

    What if an emergency breaks out and your family members are separated in different parts of town? In case of separation, you should plan on a pre-arranged meeting place for your family to regroup. This meeting place should be easy to find, easy to remember, and far removed from the disaster area. Cell phone towers will most likely be down during a natural disaster, so having this spot pre-arranged might be the only way you can ensure your clan regroups.

    Evacuation Drills

    Practice evacuation scenarios that require you to collect materials, use evacuation routes, and gather at pre-determined shelters or meeting places. If a real emergency happens, your family will be well-trained on what to do and where to go!

    2. Emergency Contact Plan

    Another important part of your family emergency plan is your emergency contact plan. During a natural disaster, it might be difficult to contact family members in your immediate area because of busy phone lines or dropped cell towers, so you’ll want to establish a reliable form of communications (pro tip: consider investing in some hand-held radios).

    Emergency Contact

    If local phone lines are busy, you could try calling people who live further away. Long distance emergency contacts can be a helpful way to relay information to immediate family members that you can’t reach due to busy, local phone lines.

    Choose two to three people who live further away and make sure that everyone in your family has those phone numbers written down or saved in their phone in case you can’t contact each other.

    3. Shelter Plan

    If you evacuate your home, you’ll need to find new shelter in a safe area. During emergencies that cover a widespread area—like hurricanes and wildfires—you should seek shelter many miles away from the disaster area, in a different city or different county.

    Make lists of both local shelters and lodging further away that you could evacuate to. If you have friends or extended relatives who live not too far, you might want to ask them if you could possibly stay with them if you had to evacuate.

    4. Build an Emergency Kit

    An emergency kit is one of the most important items to have ready in an emergency. An emergency kit includes a huge span of different survival gear, or necessary resources for any situation where you’ve lost your shelter, access to food, water, equipment, and/or electricity. The best emergency kits have all these supplies organized within an easily-transportable device—typically a pre-packed survival backpack—that’s ready to bounce with you out the door the moment it’s called upon.

    Ready-to-go survival backpacks will spare you valuable time, and you can stock them in your home (and in each of your family member’s vehicles, if you want to be extra-safe).

    5. Important Papers to Keep in Case of Emergency

    Should an emergency situation occur, you’ll want to have all vital documents stored in a single, waterproof container. These papers include:

    • Social Security card
    • Birth certificate
    • Passport
    • Any other official documents that are difficult to replace

    It might be worth your while to scan all of these documents and store your digital records on a cloud-based server so you know that you can access them in case that they’re damaged during a disaster.

    6. Staying Informed

    In an emergency situation, it’s important to be aware of any breaking developments that could affect you and your family. The Emergency Alert System (EAS) is a public warning system that may be used by local governments to issue important emergency information to radios and cell phones. These alerts are not affected by network congestion and are incredibly useful for staying up-to-date with the situation at hand.

    Some information they can provide includes:

    • Impending hazards
    • Location of the nearest emergency shelter
    • Evacuation routes that are unsafe
    • Evacuation routes that are safe

    Another great resource is NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards (NWR). This is a network of radio stations that broadcast continuous information and updates from the National Weather Service.

    It’s important to educate all members of your family about these information sources, including how to access them. Spend time with your family learning how to tune in to various alert broadcasts in case you’re not there when the need for information becomes critical.

    Remember to write out your family emergency plan in full. You should print out copies to give to each of your family members and you should have one in an easy-to-find location at home; keeping it somewhere in plain sight might help each of your family members memorize each step.

    You’ll never be able to predict all of the situations that could arise in an emergency, but a strong family emergency plan will reduce the dangers that come from panic, indecisiveness, and uncertainty.

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