By Gaye Levy
Sometimes it is the simplest things that are overlooked. Case in point? The Family Emergency Plan.
Here we are, so diligently putting away food, storing water and purchasing gear when perhaps one of the most important aspects of emergency and crisis planning has to do with having a plan to get in touch with family members and loved ones after disaster strikes. Equally important is having a plan for meeting up at a safe location as well an evacuation plan for getting there.
Whew! Sounds like a lot of work pulling this all together. But it does not have to be difficult. Below you will find ten easy steps for creating a family emergency plan as well as on online tool to get you started. Don’t worry, this is going to be easy.
1. Sit down with your family members and decide how you will get in contact with each other in an emergency. Possible methods may be by cell phone, texting, email, or a standard land line.
2. Once you figure this out, document the contact information on both a master sheet and on wallet sized cards to be carried by all family members. This document will become your “Family Communication Plan” and it will form the cornerstone of your family emergency plan. It will list all family members, their date of birth, and other important information. Include a photo for each person as well as any important medical information. Also include a contact number for an out of town contact person.
3. Determine a meeting place where you will meet in the event you can not get home. This may be your workplace, the home of a parent or relative, your church or even at a school if there are children involved. Whatever you decide, you will need at least three possible locations:
4. Determine the best evacuation routes from your home or workplace to the safe meeting places. Go to Google Maps or some other online tool and create maps showing your evacuation route along with printed directions. Then take the route and make sure it is accurate and that you understand the directions. This is important! You must drill and practice your evacuation procedure.
5. Prepare a list of all workplaces along with the address, telephone number, and closest evacuation location in the event getting to the pre-designated meeting place is not possible.
6. Also prepare a list of all schools that are attended by your children along with the address, contact names, and telephone numbers. Contact the schools now to learn about their own emergency evaluation policies and procedures.
Important Note: In many areas, the State, County or City emergency evacuation plan takes precedence over any school preparedness plan. When it comes to evacuation routes, check with your local county or city preparedness office or call and find out what their plans are since THEY will be the ones determining which roads are used as evacuation routes and which will not.
7. Prepare a list of your doctors and your veterinarian along with their telephone numbers.
8. Prepare a list of your insurance policies, including the carrier, the telephone number for claims, and the policy number itself. Include health insurance, homeowners or rental insurance, life insurance policies.
9. Consider creating a phone tree. Think of your phone tree as a pyramid where the person at the top of the pyramid contacts two people, who each call two more people, and so on, until every person on the tree has been contacted. This will allow you to distribute information quickly without redundancy and without placing the burden of work on one person.
Important Note: Be aware, however, that phone lines and cell service may not be functional following a catastrophic disaster. Although a valuable tool, do not count on your phone tree to be the sole mode of communication following a disaster. If you text, you might want to consider a “texting tree”. Texting is usually available even when cell service is down.
10. Store all of the information you have carefully compiled in multiple locations:
One easy way to get started is to go to the Ready.gov website where you can fill out much of this information online. You can then print out the online document and add the supplemental information on your own. You will find the fill-in form here: Family Emergency Plan Fill-In Form.
Whatever you do, do not fall prey to rip-off artists who will want to charge your hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to prepare a Family Emergency Plan for you. Unless you are independently wealthy, you can do it yourself over the course of one weekend. (Be sure to read my article, The Black Umbrella Rip Off to give you an idea of the sneaky ways folks will try to coax you out of your money.)
Then don’t forget to practice your evacuation plan and to test your escape routes. Your safety – and your life – may depend on it.