Hurricanes, earthquakes, fires and power outages – no matter where we live, we’re not immune to emergencies and less severe events. While we can prepare for some, others can strike at any moment, with little notice.
In order to protect you and your family, it’s essential to be prepared, and one of the most important tools every family can have to protect themselves is a family emergency preparedness plan. While this may seem a bit cumbersome at first, working together as a family to have a plan can save lives.
“Planning for the unexpected makes us all uneasy,” said Melissa Zukowski, MD, a medical director of the pediatric emergency department at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson. “However, talking about plans and practicing them will make us all safer and more prepared.”
With the help of Dr. Zukowski, here are five steps that you and your family can take to ensure you are prepared if a disaster strikes.
Step One: Identify potential emergencies
- Find out what disasters are most likely to occur in your area and the history of their occurrences.
- Subscribe to alert services that will send text messages or emails to alert you about bad weather, road closures, local emergencies, etc.
- Brush up on any disaster plans at your children’s school, work and other places your family spends time (i.e., dance, sporting events, etc.).
- Locate the nearest hospitals that provide both adult and pediatric care in case of an emergency. This is especially important for those who may require life-saving treatment or a power source for their chronic health care needs. For help finding pediatric care, check out your state’s American Academy of Pediatrics chapter or speak with your child’s pediatrician.
Step Two: Create a communications plan
- As early as possible, teach your children how to call 9-1-1, learn their first and last names, your address and a parent’s cell phone number.
- Designate out-of-state contacts in case of emergency (I.C.E). They will be resources and points of contact for your family to call.
- Create a sheet or card with all important phone numbers and family information (i.e., medical history, allergies, etc.) and make sure every family member has a copy.
- Inform caregivers of your family emergency plan should something occur while you are away. Keep this information somewhere that they can quickly access.
- Make sure everyone knows how to send text messages, in case there are network disruptions.
- Update your children’s school emergency card annually with a trusted friend or family member who can pick up your children in case you are unable to get there due to an emergency.
- For family members with disabilities or special needs, adjust your plan accordingly.
Step Three: Make an evacuation plan
- Involve your children in the planning process.
- Identify a safe meeting place for your family that is outside your home – maybe that’s a neighbor’s home, another family member’s home or somewhere else unique to your family unit.
- Discuss where your children will go if they’re at school or daycare at the time of an emergency. Make sure they understand where you will be and who may pick them up if you are unable to get there.
- Make sure your plan addresses the needs of pets and those with special needs.
- Show your family how to shut off utilities, such as where and how to shut off water to the house.
- Teach each family member how to use a fire extinguisher and where to find one in your house.
Step Four: Create a disaster go-bag
Building an emergency kit, or go-bag, can seem like a daunting (and pricey!) task. You can buy a kit all at once (places like Costco and Sam’s Club sell them) or build it over time, selecting items to buy each time you go shopping. Every family’s kit may look a little different, but here are some of the basics to include:
- Water – at least one gallon per person per day for at least three days
- Nonperishable food – at least a three-day supply – and a can opener
- First aid kit
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Basic tool kit with a wrench and pliers
- Personal care items – clothing, additional blankets
- Prescription medications – enough for at least three days
- Additional considerations may include baby supplies, pet food and games and activities for the children
Once you have your go-bag put together, determine where to keep it and ensure everyone can access the kit.
Step Five: Practice your plan
- Set up practice evacuations and shelter-in-place drills at least twice a year, so your family knows what to do and where to go in the event of an emergency.
- Revisit your family preparedness plan on a yearly basis to make sure your family is as prepared and ready as they can be. This is also especially important if there is a big family change, such as a new baby, a new chronic illness or a move to a new house that could alter the important steps.
- Keep your emergency to-go kit up to date, replacing water and perishables periodically. Make sure everyone knows where it is and take it when practicing your plan.
- Check smoke alarms regularly.
- Practice shutting off utilities, such as gas, water and electricity.
- Train in first aid and CPR.
- Keep a small amount of cash in your emergency kit or in a safe place where you can quickly access it in case of an evacuation. ATMs and credit cards may not work during a disaster.
- Save some money in an emergency savings account that can be used in a crisis.
Why involving your kids in the process is important?
While it may be an uncomfortable conversation to have with your children, especially younger ones, involving them is always a good idea.
“Kids hear and understand much more than we realize,” Dr. Zukowski said. “They may see and hear things on TV that can be worrisome. Involving them in the preparation will help them feel more comfortable should an event arise. Just like us, they will be ready.”
Hopefully, your emergency preparedness plan will never be more than practice. But should an emergency strike, you’ll be ready and prepped for success. For additional help building your family’s plan, here are some family preparedness checklists that can help:
- The Best Ways to Prepare for a Medical Emergency Before You Travel
- Don’t Drive Yourself to the Hospital During a Heart Attack
- Urgent Care vs. ER: Finding the Right Care for Your Child