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How to Make an Emergency Plan

May 17th, 2013 - 3:55 PM

Are you prepared for an emergency?
In the wake of the terrible storms that devastated Granbury, Texas this week, I began thinking about the fact that my family doesn’t really have a set-in-stone emergency plan. What would we do in the case of an emergency like fire, tornado, earthquake, etc.? Unfortunately, I have to say that with the exception of severe weather, I don’t know what we would do. We don’t have a plan. Thinking through this also caused me to consider the people we talk to every single day who are moving into areas where they may experience extreme weather that they’re not accustomed to. Do they have a plan?

Like I mentioned, in Arkansas most of us know what to do when the sirens go off and the news stations report a tornado on the ground—we go into safe rooms, storm cellars, hunker down in closets or bathtubs. But does someone moving here from California know what to do? In reverse, if I moved to California, would I know what to do in an earthquake? The answer is, no. I have no idea.

So it’s time to start thinking about how to make an emergency plan.  I did some research and have some tips that we can all follow to get better prepared.

First, think about what types of emergencies or disasters could happen where you live.
For example, in Arkansas I have to be prepared for tornados and ice storm. Do you live in or are you moving to an area where you would have to worry about hurricanes, tornados, mud slides, flooding, forest fires, ice storms, snow storms, nearby chemical or nuclear plants, etc.? Make a contingency plan for each type of emergency that could strike.

As a side note, you can check your earthquake hazard level here.

Decide where your family would go in the case of an emergency.
Identify a safe place inside and/or outside of your home to gather, as well as neighborhood resources (does your city offer a safe room, does your neighbor have a storm cellar?). 

Determine how you will get to your safe place.
Should your children remain in their rooms until someone comes to get them, or should they meet you in the safe place? What route should they take to get to the safe place (especially important in the case of a fire)? Walk through your house and identify two ways to get out of each room (if possible). Teach your kids how to open windows, and purchase emergency ladders for each room on the second floor.  Then decide what you will do if all family members are not at the same location. For example, if severe weather is imminent, will you pick your kids of from school/sports/friends’ houses? Plan for emergencies by thinking of all scenarios.

Know your evacuation route.
If you had to evacuate your city, what route would you take? Does your area have a designated evacuation route? Find out.

Teach your children how to handle an emergency alone and how to dial 9-1-1.
The scariest emergencies to plan for are the ones where you’re not around. Teach your child how to handle emergencies alone by talking through various scenarios. Young children can be taught about 9-1-1 as soon as they can recognize numbers. If you have a home phone, teach them to call from it first, as the call can be traced to their location. I used these tips to teach my kids how to call 9-1-1, and these tips for talking through emergency situations.

Know who your emergency contacts are.
Not only should your children know your phone number and address, they should also know the name and phone number of a family or friend contact as part of your emergency plan.  Advise the contact so that they are also in the loop on what your family’s emergency plan is. Also, put together a list of emergency numbers: family doctor, pediatrician, dentist, veterinarian, family members, parents’ work, health insurance, home insurance, police department, emergency room, neighbors, etc. Collect all phone numbers and policy numbers and keep the list in a place that is easy to locate. If you have a home phone, post it by the phone. If not, post it in a “notes” app on your smart phone.

Know how to turn off your utilities.
In some emergency situations, you may need to turn off your water, electricity, and/or gas. Make sure that all adults (and older children capable of performing such tasks) know where shut-off valves are and how to turn them off.

Get a fire extinguisher and learn how to use it.
Make certain there is a fire extinguisher on each level of your home, and make sure you know how to operate it. Using a fire extinguisher incorrectly can be dangerous.

Get a first aid kit
If you don’t already have one, assemble a first aid kit. The one recommended here, by the American Red Cross, is great! Make sure all family members know where it is located in your house. It is also wise to keep one in your car as well.

Know where your important papers are located.
Make a binder of important documents (or copies of them). As you carry out your emergency plan, you may need to grab-and-go.  Include copies of your driver’s license, birth certificate, insurance cards, bank accounts, marriage certificate, social security cards, and family photos.  Here’s a good example of how to make an important document binder for your emergency kit.

There’s no question that emergency planning and the discussions that follow are difficult. We naturally don’t want to think about what “could” happen, and you want to avoid causing fear in your children. But you can do it in a way that reassures them that by planning and talking through these situations, they can be prepared to stay safe during an emergency.

More resources to help you plan for an emergency

Preparing for a hurricane
Preparing for a tornado
Preparing for an earthquake
Preparing for a wildfire
Build a house fire escape plan for kids
What to do in a fire
How to prepare for severe winter weather