You don't know when the next emergency or disaster will occur or what it will be, so take some time to make a plan of what you and your family will do during emergencies. Your family may not all be together when an emergency occurs, so you should Create a Family Communications Plan. In addition, Create a Plan to Shelter in Place, and Create a Plan to Evacuate to keep you and your family safe whether you "stay" or "go". While making a plan can sounds challenging and formal, it is simple and doesn't even need to be written down. The important thing is that all family members know what to do in different types of emergencies. Much of this planning can be done in a few hours and can prove invaluable in an emergency.
Because your family may not all be together when an emergency occurs and because emergencies can disrupt normal communications due to power outages or infrastructure damage, it is important to plan how you will communicate in different situations.
- Have two predetermined family meeting locations that the entire family knows. One can be right outside your home in case of a sudden emergency, such as a fire. The other can be outside your neighborhood, in case you cannot return home or are asked to evacuate.
- Download FEMA's Family Emergency Plan (FEP) and fill out the sections before printing it or emailing it to your family and friends. The second page has emergency contact cards which should be completed for each family member. Adults can keep these cards handy in a wallet, purse or briefcase, etc. while children can put the cards in their backpacks or book bags.
- Identify an out-of-state contact for household members to notify that they are safe. The out-of-town contact, if unaffected by the emergency, may be in a better position to communicate among separated family members.
- Be sure every member of your family knows the phone number of the emergency contact and has a cell phone, coins or a prepaid phone card. If you have a cell phone, program that person(s) as "ICE" (In Case of Emergency) in your phone. In addition, program other "ICE" contacts in your cellphone as contacts during an emergency. If you are in an accident, emergency personnel may check your ICE listings in order to get a hold of someone you know. Inform your ICE contacts that they are programmed into your phone and inform them of any medical issues or special needs you may have.
- Teach family members how to use text messaging if they don't text regularly. Text messages can often work even when there is network disruptions or congestion when a phone call might not be able to get through.
- If you have internet after a disaster (either on a computer or your cellphone), consider using social media to let friends and family know that you are safe and where you are.
- Considering using the free American Red Cross "Safe and Well" service at www.safeandwell.org or 1-800-RED-CROSS. The services can be used both to register yourself as "Safe and Well" or to search for loved ones after a disaster.
During some emergencies there may be situations when it's best to stay where you are and avoid any uncertainty outside. Shelter-in-Place is a standard protective action utilized in Emergency Management. It is most often used during an event in which hazardous materials have been accidentally released into the atmosphere, but also during other dangerous conditions, such as hurricanes, flooding, blizzards, or law enforcement activity when it’s safest to remain indoors. As part of your emergency plan, consider what you would need or would need to do in advance of sheltering in place. This includes building an Emergency Kit , preparing your home for emergencies, and learning how to shut off any systems that involve air handling in case you are asked to turn them off. For more information, see MEMA Shelter in Place webpage.
Some emergencies and disasters may require evacuation. Evacuations may be for an event like a hurricane where there is time to get ready, or may be for an incident such as a hazards materials spill, a major fire, or other emergencies that may require evacuation with no notice. Since evacuations often have short or no notice, planning ahead is essential.
As part of your family emergency plan, consider what you would do if you were asked to evacuate:
- Where would you go? Would you stay with family and friends and if so, who? Or would you go to a hotel or local emergency shelter?
- How will you evacuate? Do you have your own car that you would take? If your car was damaged or inaccessible, how would you travel? If you don't have a car, how would you evacuate? Make sure you know at least two routes to your destination in case of impassible roads or traffic.
- What will you bring? Considering bringing your "go bag" of key items that is part of your Emergency Kit . See MEMA's Evacuation webpage for list of what you might bring. Make sure to include any items specific to your family needs (medicines, medical equipment, assistive devices, baby supplies, etc.)
- What will you do with your pets? While service animals will be allowed inside shelters household pets are not allowed in all shelters. Consider additional options for your pet, such as staying with relatives or friends, a kennel, or pet friendly hotels. Have pet supplies, medicines, carriers and tags for your pet. See MEMA’s Pets and Animals in Emergencies webpage.
- When will you evacuate? For events that have warning, like hurricanes, make a plan of when you might evacuate. Don't wait until the last minute when conditions outside might be dangerous.
- See MEMA's Evacuation webpage for more information.
Ensure that all your planning considers the needs of specific family members such as children, pets, senior citizens and those with access and functional needs. Everyone's family emergency plan is slightly different because of each family's different needs, so make sure your plan suits your family!
You should also inquire about emergency plans at places where your family spends time: work, daycare and school, faith organizations, sports events and commuting. If no plans exist, consider volunteering to help create one. Talk to community leaders, your colleagues, neighbors and members of faith or civic organizations about how you can work together in the event of an emergency. You will be better prepared to safely reunite your family and loved ones during an emergency if you think ahead and communicate with others in advance.