You have your disaster kits, your know where your utilities are, and you know what to do with your pets. What are you going to do with your family, though, and more importantly, do they know what to do?
Having a family plan is just one facet of an overall disaster plan. Since your family members may very well be in different places when a disaster strikes, it is important that everyone knows what to do and where to go. Our tip-sheet Your Family Plan [PDF, 174Kb] will help yu make sure that you don't forget anything when creating your plan, and that everyone in your family knows what to do when disaster strikes; a sample family schedule is also provided.
Know your schedules
Most of us run on a fairly standard schedule. We go to work at regular times, our kids go to school during regular hours, and we often have regular times for extracurricular or family activities such as sports, worship, clubs, and more. Knowing where each of your family members will be when can be important if a disaster strikes when not everyone is home. Also include any special events that are planned out in advance, such as weddings, family reunions, vacations, business trips, etc.
Create a written schedule that lists all your family's regular activites, complete with locations and usual routes travelled. If you're on your way to work when a disaster occurs, for example, knowing how long it takes you to get there will give your family a good idea if you made it there safely or not, and the route your take may be important if it turns out you haven't.
Don't worry about putting everything on the schedule; many events are spontaneous ("Hey let's go to the movies this afternoon!"), and traffic delays, stops at the gas station, and unplanned doctor's visits are nearly impossible to plan for.
Designate a meeting place
Your family should have two pre-designated meeting places in case a disaster occurs. The first should be in the neighborhood, such as "at the cul-de-sac on our street." The other should be out of the immediate area, so that if you need to leave town for any reason, those family members who aren't with you when you leave will know where to meet you.
If you need to leave a pre-designated meeting place, or the meeting place is unusable (due to fire or being blocked by debris, for example), leave a note if possible at the original meeting place or on your front door so your family members will know where you've gone to find you.
For your out-of-area meeting place, consider sharing the information with relatives and close friends that live in the same area as you, so that they can have a way to check on you to make sure you're okay. Also give this information to your out-of-state contact.
Disasters may damage phone transmission lines. Even if they're undamaged and other utlilities are still operational, local lines are often jammed due to the vast number of people trying to check on family members and neighbors at the same time. Long-distance calls, however, are send on a different set of lines, and are less likely to be affected. Having an out-of-state contact is a good way for your family to be able to share information with others who might otherwise not be able to contact you.
Generally your contact should be a relative or close family friend that other members of your family have in common with you. Make sure you share this information with your other relatives so that they know who to contact for updates. Your contact can also be a good way for you to get information about other family members who may have also been affected by the disaster. Get in touch with your contact as soon as possible after a disaster to let them know your family's status.
Make sure that everyone in your immediate family knows your contact's phone number, so that if you're not together when a disaster occurs (for example parents at work in different cities, kids at different schools) you can at least have a way to check on each other.
Also remember that while cellular and local phone lines may be jammed, text messages are sent over a different system that may be less likely to be jammed.
Everything in triplicate
This may sound like a joke, but it isn't. You need to have multiple copies of your family's important documents, so that if one set gets destroyed or becomes inaccessible for any reason you still have a backup. Important documents include:
• Birth certificates
• Marriage certificates
• Immunization records
• Immigration paperwork
• Insurance policies
• Land deeds
• Lease paperwork
• Vehicle registration
• Wills and any powers of attorney
• Stock certificates
• Copies of driver's licenses and other goverment or school-issued identification
• Copies of ATM and credit cards
• Any other important paperwork that your family may have
Also keep spare keys to your home and vehicles, some spare cash, any expensive jewelry your family owns, and any particularly important heirlooms or mementos (such as family photos, military medals or ranks, etc.) with your originals or main copies. Store these items with your disaster kit in a locking portable fire safe, or in a bank safe deposit box.
Have two backup copies of your documents and keys: one should be local in the event of a small-scale disaster such as a house fire, either in a locking portable fire safe kept with a trusted friend or local relative, or in a safe deposit box (if your originals are also kept in one, use a different branch or bank for your local backup). The second should be out of the area in the event of a major area-wide disaster, ideally with your out-of-state contact or in a safe deposit box at a bank branch out-of-state.
Prepare, prepare, prepare
Drills are essential to remembering what to do in the event of a disaster. Many of us still remember the fire drills we did in grade school, which is proof that drills work. Practice "drop, cover, and hold" procedures with your family, and conduct regular evacuation drills so that your family knows where the exits in your home are (not just the front door!) and where to go once they're out.
Consider contacting your kids' schools to learn what their specific disaster plans are and how your children will be cared for until you can get to them. Ask your employer as well. Share this information with your family members and update it once a year (or whenever your kids change schools or you or your spouse change jobs, if sooner).
Finally, consider taking disaster preparedness classes as a family, such as Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training or even first aid/CPR classes. The more information you have and the more planning you do, the better prepared you'll be in the event of the real thing.
For more information, visit the following websites (links will open in a new window):
Emergency Survival Program