If disaster strikes, will your family be ready?

Making an emergency plan for you and your family can prepare you in case of disaster. By drafting a simple plan, you can better your chances of safe evacuation, financial stability, and proper communication. The first step in making a family emergency plan is knowing what kinds of emergencies you may be susceptible to in your area.

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Step One: Establish Your Needs

Whether you live alone, with a partner, your parents, kids, or roommates, being on the same page in case of an emergency is a vital part of staying safe in times of hardship. There are a few main questions each member of your household should be able to answer in case of an emergency. How will each household member get emergency alerts and warnings?

Having an established family or roommate group chat will help your household keep in touch in case of emergency. If you’re a tenant, be sure to have your landlord or property manager’s contact information saved in your cell phone, and know who to call if you need assistance at home.

What’s our shelter plan?

Needing to seek shelter may be a necessity for a variety of emergencies. When outside conditions require you to seek protection, this may require you to stay inside your home or flee to another source of shelter. In any case, it’s important to closely follow the direction of local authorities. Regardless, you’ll need to prepare by managing the most important resources, water, and food. So, when possible, always keep a supply of bottled water and non-perishable goods in a cool, dry place, like a closet, basement, or the trunk of your car. 

There is a variety of sheltering options depending on the emergency situation. These include stay-at-home orders, mass care shelters, or sheltering in place. Again, in these situations, it’s vital you carefully note the instructions of local officials to ensure the safety of you and your family

Stay-at-Home Orders

A stay-at-home sheltering order restricts residents’ movement throughout a certain area. All around the US and many other countries around the world, stay-at-home orders have been put in place in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. This has been seen during the COVID-19 response around the United States and the world. Stay-at-home orders are generally used to mitigate an epidemic or other contagion for a more long-term sheltering solution. It’s vital you only leave your home if absolutely necessary. Check with your local government to see what restrictions might also be in place for outdoor activities, like jogging around your neighborhood or even eating dinner on your patio. 

Mass Care Shelters

In the case of a natural disaster, mass care shelters may be set up to provide shelter and necessities to local people in an emergency. Often providing food, water, medical care, and beds, these mass care shelters may be available after a hurricane, flood, or another disaster which makes it impossible for people to return to their homes. Even knowing a mass care shelter may be available to you in case of emergency, it’s still important to create and carefully store your own emergency supply kit. The federal government has a text line to locate shelters near your location by texting SHELTER and your ZIP code to 43362 (standard text messaging rates apply).

Sheltering in Place

The third type of post-emergency shelter is “sheltering in place.”In the case of a shelter in place order, which is generally due to uncertain circumstances, like sudden natural disasters or active shooters, people must stay put and enter the nearest shelter, regardless of where they are. This could occur while you’re at home, but you might be at your local shopping mall, a restaurant, or your place of work. Calling the police or local authorities in this type of situation may not be helpful, as phone lines could be clogged. Do your best to seek shelter as soon as possible. Seal windows, lock doors, and listen to radio or television to receive instructions as soon as they’re available. 

What’s our evacuation plan?

Some emergencies may require you to evacuate your home, or even your town or region. In some cases, you may have a day or two to organize and pack ahead of a predicted storm. Other times, you’ll need to flee immediately, that’s why having a plan ahead of time can be a lifesaving tool. Identify safe places inside your home (such as a basement or secure room), a nearby friend’s home, or a nearby hotel or motel. Have a plan for your family pet, and be familiar with evacuation routes out of your city in areas prone to flooding. Since these routes will often experience heavy traffic ahead of emergency situations, it can be life-saving to be able to get out ahead of the crowd. Preparing a plan ahead of time can save you precious minutes. 

What’s our communication plan?

Who will call whom? Make sure you also inform a third party about where you’re headed, whether that’s an outside family member or friend. It’s vital to keep tabs on your location to ensure safety after an emergency. 

What’s in our emergency preparedness kit, and where is it located?

Gathering an emergency preparedness kit before it’s needed is a simple way to be ready in case disaster strikes. Having a kit with the necessary supplies for 72 hours after a disaster is recommended. Consider unique needs, for instance, do you have a pet, senior citizen, or baby? This may change what’s on your checklist. Regardless, the following checklist should definitely be included in your emergency kit

  • Bottled water
  • Non-perishable food
  • Battery powered radio
  • Flashlight with spare batteries
  • Basic first aid kit
  • Whistle
  • Face mask
  • Basic toiletries and medications
  • Small tool kit
  • Local map (don’t rely on your cell phone for this)!

Step Two: Understand Your Unique Needs

Your family may have unique needs that a typical household does not—in order to properly prepare for an emergency, understanding these needs could help better draft an emergency preparedness plan. 

Some things to consider:

  • Ages of those in your household. Do you live with an elderly parent or grandparent? Baby or toddler? If so, the contents of your emergency preparedness kit might be different from the norm. Be sure to have spare toiletries, medications, toiletries, and/or baby formula.
    • Medical and dietary needs. Do any members of your household have allergies that may require an epi-pen? How about other prescription medications? Spares of these are a vital part of your emergency preparedness
  • Cultural and religious considerations. Do you speak the local language? Will you need help translating emergency communications from local authorities?
  • Pets or service animals. Do you have the necessary supplies to keep your pet or service animal safe in case of an emergency?

What kind of disaster should I be prepared for?

Your geographic location will determine what natural disasters you may need to prepare for. NOAA will notify you if your area may be subject to a weather disaster. The CDC will ensure communications are in place in a public health crisis, like the coronavirus. FEMA can help your family differentiate between rumors and facts in times of emergency.

Beyond weather emergencies or public health crises, an emergency preparedness plan can help you in the following situations:

  • Active shooter situations
  • Attacks or accidents in a public space
    • Bioterrorism
    • Chemical emergencies 
    • Explosions
  • Natural disasters
    • Drought
    • Flood
    • Extreme heat
    • Hurricanes
    • Tornado
    • Volcanic activity
    • Wildfires
    • Tsunami
    • Thunder/lightning storms
    • Blizzard/extreme cold
  • Personal security and public health
    • Cybersecurity 
    • Pandemics
    • Household chemical emergencies 
    • Home fires

Step Three: Make Arrangements

Download and fill out an emergency preparedness plan or checklist, or create your own. Familiarize those that live with you in your home—whether they’re family members or new roommates—with your new emergency plan. Establish emergency contacts, and try to memorize the phone numbers of those most important to you. If you have small children or family members with special needs, try to help them memorize those telephone numbers too, as well as an understanding of the 911 system.

Prepare your home with necessary disaster supplies, as well as other cautionary measures, like a fire extinguisher near the kitchen and fireplace, the smoke detectors are functioning, and established escape routes have been discussed. Call a family meeting to ensure your loved ones understand the importance of this disaster plan

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Emergency Preparedness Frequently Asked Questions 

What types of disasters should I prepare for?

Depending on what area of the country you’re in, the types of disasters you should prepare for will differ. In California, for instance, making a plan in case of a forest fire is much more important than a family in Massachusetts, who may have to prepare for a major blizzard. From public health disasters like the coronavirus to identify fraud with your credit card, there are many disasters that an emergency preparedness plan can help assist with.

How can I get advice on preparing for an emergency?

The federal government, as well as your local authorities, have lots of resources to help you better prepare an emergency plan. Ready.gov is a fantastic resource that can help you understand the risk you may be facing, and how to be prepared for anything that might come your way. Discussing the possibility of emergencies with each member of your family can help you ensure that everyone—from your grandma to your toddler, understand what to do in case of disaster. Just establishing a meeting place is a great way to start your emergency management. 

How can I protect my home in case of an emergency? 

The best way to protect your property investment is with a sufficient homeowners insurance policy. To find the best coverage options and the cheapest prices, use a comparison tool to get all the best quotes with none of the hassle. Your best option for this is to use Insurify, the best online homeowners insurance comparison platform.

Conclusion: Emergency Preparedness for You and Your Loved Ones

Don’t let preparing for an emergency cause you unnecessary anxiety or fear. Having a clear and concise emergency plan can help you stay clear headed in case you ever need to actually use it. From an emergency kit in the trunk of your car to some extra cans of soup in your pantry, you can take emergency preparedness in baby steps. 

Discussing the existence of risks with your family members is an important first step to emergency preparedness. Start by making sure your home is sufficiently insured by comparing home insurance quotes with Insurify.

Stay safe out there!

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Updated October 26, 2020

Jackie Cohen received her B.A. in Global Media and Public Relations from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Currently based in Boston, MA, she works as a content writer for Insurify. An avid globe-trotter and foodie, Jackie spends her spare time adventuring far and near.