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If Natural or Terrorist Disaster Occurs, Do You Have a Family Plan? (Download Your FREE Planner Now)

Widespread disaster, as we know all-too-well, can have multiple causes: terrorist attacks, chemical, biological and radiation threats, explosions, nuclear blasts, and of course natural disasters like the recent devastating hurricanes. When disaster does strike, most families are swept up in chaos and panic while trying to determine what step to take next.

Disaster Plan

In case you can't return home, your family should have a neighborhood meeting place and an out-of-town contact person to call.

But expecting the unexpected and creating a plan of what to do during a disaster -- long before disaster strikes -- is the best way to keep your family safe.

How to Create Your Family Disaster Plan

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), along with the American Red Cross, suggest following these four steps to best prepare your family for disaster.

1. Find out what the threats are.

Depending on where you live, certain types of disasters are more likely to happen. Your local emergency management office, civil defense office or American Red Cross chapter can tell you what threats exist in your region, and give you information to prepare for each.

Once you know the threats, make sure you're familiar with your town's warning signals. A tornado siren may sound different from a terrorist attack warning, for instance.

Also be sure to ask about disaster plans at your workplace and your children's school or day care. Each should have a predetermined plan in place.

2. Create your family disaster plan.

Have a family meeting, including the children, to discuss the purpose of the disaster plan, and the most likely reasons why you may have to use it. Then:

  • Pick two meeting places. One should be right outside your home (near a familiar tree, for instance) in case of a fire, etc., and one should be outside of your neighborhood, in case it's not safe to return home. Make sure everyone knows the address and phone number of this location.

  • Disaster Plan

    Knowing evacuation routes ahead of time, and being prepared with a portable Disaster Supplies Kit, will help you out in an emergency.

  • Choose an out-of-state "family contact." In an emergency, it may be easier to make a long distance call than one to the affected area. Each family member should know the name and phone number of the out-of-state contact, and should call them with their location during a disaster.

  • Discuss what to do in an evacuation, including how to take care of your pets.

  • Download this Family Communications Plan. It will help you keep track of important names, phone numbers, addresses, and other family information that you'll need during a disaster.

3. Complete this checklist from FEMA and the Red Cross.

  • Post emergency telephone numbers (fire, police, ambulance, etc.) by phones

  • Teach children how and when to call 911

  • Show each family member how and when to turn off the water, gas and electricity at the main switches

  • Check if you have adequate insurance coverage

  • Teach each family member how to use the fire extinguisher and show them where it's kept

  • Install smoke detectors on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms

  • Conduct a home hazard hunt, looking out for fire hazards, poisons or other threats

  • Stock emergency supplies and assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit (see below for what to put in it).

  • Take a Red Cross first aid and CPR class.

  • Determine the best escape routes from your home. Find two ways out of each room.

  • Find the safe spots in your home for each type of disaster.

4. Practice your plan.

If you go over the plan once and never speak of it again, chances are you'll forget it. Just like schools conduct periodic fire and disaster drills, your family should too. Every six months or so, go over the important information (contact names, phone numbers, meeting places, etc.) with kids and conduct fire and emergency evacuation drills in your home.

Also be sure to replenish emergency supplies like water and food (they'll only last so long before going bad), test and recharge your fire extinguishers and test (and change the batteries in) your smoke detectors.

What to Put in a Disaster Supplies Kit

Every family should keep the basics necessary for at least three days of survival (for each family member and pet) on hand at all times. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommends including the following items in your kit:

Get Your Family Communications
Plan Ready Now!

By downloading the Family Communications Plan from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, you can rest assured that all of your important family information is collected in one safe place. It has spaces for all the necessary information, like:

  • Social security numbers and medical information for each family member

  • Contact information for workplaces, schools, daycare and other places your family frequents

  • Contact information for doctors, pharmacies, insurance, veterinarians, etc.

  • Wallet cut-outs for each family member to carry that list names and numbers of in- and out-of-town contacts, neighborhood meeting places and more

Download Your Family
Communications Plan Now!

  • Water: Plan on one gallon of water, per person per day, plus extra for pets

  • Food: Stock at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food for each family member and pet

  • Battery-powered radio and extra batteries: To hear emergency instructions and news updates

  • Flashlight and extra batteries

  • First-aid kit

  • Whistle: To signal for help

  • Dust mask or cotton t-shirt: In the event air is contaminated, you can place it over your nose and mouth to help filter the air

  • Moist towelettes: For sanitation

  • Wrench or pliers: To turn off utilities

  • Can opener: To open canned foods

  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape: To "seal" your room by taping windows and other outlets closed if outside air is contaminated

  • Other family necessities: This could include prescription medications, infant formula, diapers, important family documents, etc.

  • Garbage bags and plastic ties: For personal sanitation

While there's no way to predict when or where disaster may strike, knowing that your family knows what to do and where to go, and that you're prepared, will give you peace of mind that your family will be as safe as possible.

Recommended Reading

Severe Weather: The Most to Least Fatal & the Key Steps to Save Your Life

Floodwaters Carry Dangerous Bacteria: What You Should Do if YOU are Ever Exposed to Bad Bacteria


U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Ready America

Federal Emergency Management Agency

American Red Cross

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