Although it's impossible to prevent random accidents or natural disasters, you can take steps to keep your family safe and prepared for emergencies in general. Developing a family emergency plan is one way to take positive action toward being better prepared.
Tips for creating a family emergency plan
Planning for the unexpected begins with the whole family talking about what you would do in a serious emergency. Do this in a calm way that will not make children or older relatives anxious. Here are some tips for creating an emergency plan:
- Post emergency telephone numbers in a central place. These numbers include those for police, fire, poison control, school, work, child care and important relatives.
- Make sure everyone knows family cell phone numbers. Program the numbers into children's phones, but explain that cell phone calls may not go through in an emergency when lines are very busy; they may need to send text messages.
- Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to be your family's emergency contact. It's often easier to call long distance in an emergency, and you and your family can call this person and explain where you are.
- Teach very young children their last names and the name of their city or town. If they get separated from your family in a crisis, this knowledge will help you and your children find each other.
- Teach each family member who is old enough how and when to turn off utilities (water, gas, oil and electricity) at the main switches. If you don't know these specifics, contact your utility providers for instructions.
- Install smoke detectors and fire extinguishers on each level of your home, and check the batteries in smoke detectors every few months. You can even put this on your calendar as an automatic reminder.
- Go through your home with family members, and determine the best escape routes from every room. Post a diagram with everyone's picture on their escape route.
- Choose two emergency meeting places. You'll need one place near your home to use in an emergency such as a fire and a second place outside your neighborhood in case your family can't get back home.
- Leave at least half a tank of gas in each car at all times. If you need to leave home fast, you won't have to worry about where to get gas.
- Talk with your family about how you'd leave home if you had to evacuate. Find an out-of-state friend or relative whose home could be your evacuation location.
- Know the emergency plans at work, child care centers, your child's school and an older relative's nursing home. Contact local emergency services to find out if they could help older or disabled family members in case of an emergency, or have them send out the appropriate procedures that are needed to keep those family members safe.
- Plan how you'd care for pets. If your emergency plan involves pets, make sure you have a crate or other carrier and enough pet food and water. Confirm that your meeting place or evacuation location will allow pets.
- Have adequate insurance on your car, home and property. Basic homeowner's insurance does not include flood coverage. Ask your insurer if you can get catastrophic coverage to cover damage caused by potential risks in your area, such as floods, wildfires or hurricanes. Check to be sure you have "replacement insurance."
- Keep important documents and numbers in a zipped plastic bag and in a fireproof "evacuation box" you could find and grab fast. Include the following:
- A copy of each family member's driver's license and passport
- Each family member's Social Security card or number
- A copy of each family member's birth certificate
- A copy of everyone's medical records and list of vaccinations, including your pet's
- Property titles for your car and home
- All of your bank, credit card and investment account numbers and corresponding customer service telephone numbers
- Health insurance and life insurance account information
- Photographs or videos of all of your property (which would help during the insurance claim process if your home and other belongings were destroyed)
- Wills, as well as living wills and a power of attorney
- Your latest tax return
- Your marriage certificate
- Adoption and citizenship papers
- Military records
- Medications and eyeglass prescriptions
- Computer files on disc or external hard drives
- Your favorite family photographs
As part of your emergency planning, you might also want to consider storing some of your family photos and videos with an online photo service or on a disc. That way, you'll have copies of any pictures destroyed by a disaster and will also have less to carry if you have to evacuate.
Creating an emergency supply kit or "go bag"
A ready-to-go supply kit, also commonly referred to as a "go bag," will help your family leave home quickly in an emergency. The American Red Cross says that every emergency supply kit should have basic items: water, food, clothing, bedding, first-aid supplies and tools. Keep your kits easily accessible in containers that aren't too heavy to carry. Include in them:
- Water - At least three days' worth - one gallon per person per day.
- Food - At least three days' worth of food that won't spoil or go bad. Choose foods that don't need cooking or refrigeration, such as peanut butter, dried fruits, energy bars and canned meats and vegetables.
- Clothing - At least three days' worth of clothing and footwear for each person in the family. Remember to include extra underwear and socks.
- Bedding - Sleeping bags or rolled blankets, stored near your supply kit.
- First-aid kit supplies - Prepare one for your home and one for your car. Check with your local Red Cross chapter, or visit www.redcross.org to find out more.
- Emergency supplies - Include a battery-operated radio, a flashlight with extra batteries, duct tape, plastic bags, water purification tablets, toys for children, local maps and a compass, aluminum foil, matches and a can opener.
- Basic tools - Include pliers, a wrench, an axe and a utility knife.
- Personal items - Include basic toiletry items, such as toilet paper, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, feminine products, medications (two-week supply, if possible), extra eyeglasses and contact lens solution.
- Money - Include some cash, coins and extra personal checks.
- Additional supplies for the car - These might include flares, booster cables, a shovel, a road atlas, a tire repair kit and pump and a thermal or all-weather blanket.
Watch for government announcements about other supplies needed in times of specific threats. Go to the website for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for more information.