How to: The Family Emergency Plan

Welcome to part two of the preparing for a natural disaster series: the Family Emergency Plan. Making sure everyone in the family knows what to do when the unexpected happens is important and keeps key information in one easily accessible document.  Since emergencies are unplanned every member of the family has the plan with them whether in their wallet, purse or backpack.

There are a few key points and information you’ll want to cover in your plan:

  1. Family communication – the location of family members when a disaster occurs and key contact information so you can keep track of each other
  2. Escape route – what actions could you take during a disaster
  3. Vital Records – copies of important papers

Family communication

There is a good likelihood that a disaster can happen while you are at work and the kids are at school which requires extra thought and planning.  Alternatively you can be at home together which makes coordination a bit easier.  Talk through all the options of where you could be when a disaster happens and create a plan for each scenario.

If you aren’t sure where to start FEMA has a Family Emergency Plan checklist and suggests you give each family member a copy of the plan so they can keep it with them.

Decide in advance who your out of town contact will be and include their information in your plan.  Sometimes long distance calls are easier to make in a disaster so this person may be the key to keeping in touch with family members in your more immediate area.  Send a copy of your plan to this person so they know what to expect.

Escape route

What and where you go during a disaster is key to survival. Do you know which bridges and tunnels are seismically updated to withstand an earthquake? What route could you take to meet your kids at their school? Where is the nearest emergency shelter?

In your home you should prepare an escape route based on two different exit choices in case one is blocked.  Research your city or municipal website for emergency or evacuation routes and typically there is information on safe evacuation zones.  Fema has a good checklist and set of guidelines for evacuating the family safely.  In Vancouver we have information from the city on what to do in an earthquake and also information on seismically upgraded bridges and city buildings.

Check with your child’s school or daycare to see what their plan is and if they have supplies and instructions for natural disasters. If they don’t have one, volunteer to help them create one along with other parents.

Walk through a scenario where  a natural disaster occurs when you’re at work and the kids are in school.  Plan how you would get to the school if you couldn’t use a car or public transportation. Where would you meet the kids? Ask the school Principal what the plan is in an emergency and ask if you can observe a school emergency drill. In BC we have The Great BC Shakeout every year where the region pretends there is a huge earthquake. Last year almost 600,000 people participated. Sign up in your region and participate in a practice natural disaster drill in your area.

Vital Records

Likely after a natural disaster government and other offices may be closed for a short while during clean up.  If you need to evacuate, or if your home is no longer safe, you’ll want to make sure you have key documents in your emergency kit and important phone numbers included in your emergency plan.

Equally important and vital is cash including small bills.  Keeping an emergency stash of cash will help if ATM’s aren’t working and banks aren’t open.  FEMA has a checklist of vital documents to have with you as well as an emergency financial first aid kit.  There are a lot more listed than just passports and insurance documents.

Lastly you may want to consider signing up for a first aid class or emergency planning course in your area.  In Vancouver the city offers free monthly Emergency Workshops at local community centers.

Part 1 – How to create a basic family emergency kit

Part 2 – How to create a family plan

Part 3 – How to prepare for family pets in an emergency and customize your kit


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