How to Prepare a Family Emergency Plan

Emergencies can strike out of nowhere, leaving your family feeling scattered and not providing you enough time to plan for how you will handle the problem. 

Rather than feeling like you don’t have control of the situation or worrying about how you will keep your family safe, I recommend that you take time to prepare a family emergency plan.

After reading this article you will know exactly what you need in your plan to keep your family safe.

I know that putting together an emergency plan for your family to follow in times of crises can feel daunting. 

That’s why I put together this guide to help you make the process as easy as possible. 

To begin your family safety plan you must answer the following four question.

1) How Will You Receive Emergency Alerts and Warnings?

In the event of a emergency situation you must be able to receive messages and alerts from local and national authorities.

If you do not take the time to set up how you will get information from the government and local public safety officers, then you and your family will not know when it is safe to leave your home or what other steps you need to take to improve your safety. 

Consider having an NOAA weather radio so that you can tune into information and also make sure that you understand the Emergency Alert System and how to get the information that they will broadcast in your area.

Read this article to see my recommendations for the best emergency radio.

2) What is Your Shelter Plan?

Your family also needs to have a shelter plan. Depending on the situation, and where your family is when an emergency strikes will dictate where you seek shelter.

Mass care shelters are great if you need medical care, don’t have access to food or water, or are not able to access sanitary facilities. 

However, you do have to remember that mass care shelters can fill up quickly and will often be packed full of a lot of people, which many find to be very unpleasant. 

Make sure that you bring any emergency supplies with you that you need, as you may not be allowed to leave the shelter after entering it, and you do not want to be without medications.

If you prefer to shelter in your home, then there are a few things that you can do to make sure that you choose the right location in your home and that it is as safe as possible. 

Your first step is to designate a room in your home that you will use for shelter. 

You want it to be one without windows, above ground level, and large enough for everyone to sit comfortably. Make sure that you have the necessary items to seal gaps around windows and under doors, that you have your emergency supply kit with you, and that you have some sort of communication device so that you can hear what is going on outside. 

A radio or a landline phone are good options. Cell phones may not work if the infrastructure is damaged.

I use, and highly recommend investing in a ham radio. It allows efficient and dependable communication with authorities and other radio operators during an emergency.

Here are my recommendations for the best ham radio base stations.

If you have never used a ham radio read my article on how to get a ham radio license.

3) What is Your Evacuation Route?

Sometimes, you simply can’t stay put and you will need to be able to evacuate your home as quickly and as efficiently as possible. 

You do not want to leave planning for an evacuation for the last minute, as you will likely run into problems.

I recommend that you identify several locations where you could go for shelter, both in and out of town. 

Make sure that you are familiar with various routes you can take in case roads are closed, and always have a meeting place for family members to stop along the way in case you get separated on the road.

If you are going to be driving, you have to have a go-bag that fits easily in the vehicle, as well as a full tank of gas. 

It will likely be difficult, if not impossible, to stop and fill up your tank on the way. 

Traveling by foot has its own concerns, as you have to be able to carry all of your supplies on your back and will not have the shelter of your vehicle. I do not recommend evacuating in this way unless it is your only choice.

4) What is Your Family Communication Plan?

Your family has to know how to communicate with each other when you are faced with an emergency. 

It’s a good idea to make sure that everyone has a copy of your emergency plan and that they also have copies of all necessary paperwork. This includes personal documentation.

Even if you have phone numbers stored in your cell phone, these can easily be lost. 

Take the time to write down phone numbers and make a copy for all members of your family to carry with them. 

Other information, such as ID’s, medical information, and a copy of where everyone should meet if separated should also be included in this packet to reduce the risk of confusion and panic.

Consider the Specific Needs of Your Household

No family’s emergency plan is going to look exactly the same as another family’s. 

The best thing that you can do is take time to make sure that your plan is perfectly tailored to meet the needs of your family. 

I have listed some areas that you will need to consider when coming up with your emergency plan. These areas will all make a huge difference in how successful and useful your plan really is. Do not view this as an exhaustive list, as you must consider the specific needs of your family members.

Plan for the Ages of Members Within Your Household

If you have children in your home, then you need to make sure that your family emergency plan will help you take care of their individual needs. 

Children will likely feel frightened during an emergency.

Be prepared to manage their fears while ensuring that they have all necessary supplies and information. 

Reviewing and practicing the action steps of your emergency plan with your children frequently will make them less likely to panic when confronted with an emergency.

It’s a smart idea to make sure that everyone in your family has a copy of a family emergency card that they can keep with them. 

This will help everyone from kids to the elderly connect with family.

Elderly members of your family need a different type of help. This is especially true if you have members who suffer from memory loss.

Again, take time to prepare with the specific needs of your family in mind.

Responsibilities for Assisting Others

Make sure that everyone in your family knows who they are responsible for helping. 

Young children need an older sibling or adult to look after them, as do elderly members of your family and people who have disabilities.

Locations Frequented

It’s important that each member of your family knows what to do if they are separated from each other during an emergency. 

Have plans for how people will get back home, or if they need to wait and be picked up by someone in the family.

Community relationships are very important during a disaster or emergency situation.

By forming a network of other families in the community, you will improve the odds of each member of your family being protected when an emergency hits.

Dietary Needs

If anyone in your family has special dietary needs or restrictions, then you need to plan ahead for their specific needs. 

You can’t assume that shelters will be able to feed your family members while staying within their dietary restrictions.

Medical Needs Including Prescriptions and Equipment

All prescription medications, other medications, and medical equipment will have to be with you when you are in an emergency situation. 

It’s important to make sure that someone is in charge of packing and carrying all necessary medical items so that nothing gets left behind.

Create a checklist of all necessary medical equipment and medications and ensure you have an adequate supply on hand at all times.

Disabilities, Access, and Special Needs

People who have disabilities or families who have members with disabilities need to have a plan in place to ensure their specific needs are met. 

It’s a good idea to complete a personal assessment about the types of personal care that they need, as well as what equipment is necessary. 

Languages Spoken

Unfortunately, you can’t assume that everyone around you will speak your language during an emergency. 

No matter what language you speak, it’s a good idea to have a decent dictionary that you can bring with you or to have a sheet of paper with common translated phrases so that you can ask for help.

This is especially important if you live in a culturally diverse community.

Cultural and Religious Considerations

I know that faith can be incredibly helpful during an emergency, and if your family is religious or has certain cultural needs, then you need to take these into consideration when planning.

Pets and Service Animals

Family pets and service animals are members of the family, and preparation must be made to ensure their safety during an emergency. 

Make sure that you have evacuation supplies for them that are packed with yours. 

Not all shelters will accept pets, so plan ahead if you will be evacuating and know your shelters rules regarding animals and pets. 

A quick list of pet supplies needed in an emergency:

·         Durable leashes

·         Bowls, food, and water

·         Medications and medical records

·         An updated photo

·         First aid kit

·         Toys

Households with School Aged Children

Children who are in school will have to be picked up by family members during an emergency. 

Getting to the school can be very difficult when all of the parents are trying to reach their children.

If you have neighbors with children to pick up have a plan who can pick up the children and reduce the need for as many people driving to the same school.

This will lower congestion at the school and allow for a better evacuation. 

Fill Out Your Family Emergency Plan

You must have a written emergency plan.

While discussing and explaining your emergency plan to your family is important, each member must have access to written copy with all steps spelled out.

This provides a reference document that everyone in your family has access to. Making it easier for people to follow along during an emergency.

Identify Family Member Responsibilities

One important step to take when filling out a family emergency plan is to assign responsibilities to different family members. 

You have to make sure that everyone helps during an emergency and that everyone knows what their job is.

Be specific. And ask each member of your family if they understand their role.

Understand the Natural Disaster Risks in Your Area

Certain communities are going to be more prone to dealing with different types of natural disasters. 

For example, families on the beach will need to concern themselves with hurricane preparedness, while this is not a problem for those who live in the mountains. 

Knowing what natural disasters you will face will allow you to prepare for them.

Know Your Communities Warning Systems

Every community has their own warning system. Once you know what the system sounds like, what the tones mean, and how to respond, you can make sure that your family is prepared.

Not all warning systems are loud enough for everyone in the town to hear. 

It’s important that you know how else to find out about local emergencies, such as on the radio or on a town website. 

As mentioned earlier, learning to operate a ham radio is a great way to prepare for any emergency. 

Ham radios can connect you quickly and efficiently to up to date emergency information.

Learn About All Potential Emergencies

Some emergencies can occur in any location, no matter in what area of the country you live. Floods and fires can happen anywhere, at any time, so you need to make sure that you know how to handle these problems.

Everyone should prepare for extended power outages and blackouts. Read my article on preparing for blackouts.

Learn How to Survive Unique Emergencies

Unique emergencies are going to be ones that will only happen in your region. 

One example is a volcano eruption or an earthquake. 

While many families will not need to know what to do in case of an eruption or earthquake, you must be aware of the unique emergency situations in your community. Be certain that your family emergency plan takes these scenarios into consideration.

Learn What to do During Emergencies that Require Taking Shelter or Evacuation

Some emergencies, such as a winter storm, will require you to take shelter inside. 

These emergencies will need a different plan than ones, such as hurricanes, that may require your family to evacuate your home. 

By knowing what type of action each emergency will require, you can more easily plan for each individual emergency.

Know What to do if You are Seperated

Unfortunately, families can be separated during emergencies. To reduce the fear and danger that can occur when this happens, make sure that you have:

·         Chosen a place outside your home for meeting up

·         Chosen a place outside your neighborhood where you can safely reconnect

·         Have an out-of-area person to contact in case of emergency so that everyone can       touch base with them

·         Provide information cards to all family members to use in case of separation

·         Know how you will change your plan if you have visiting family or guests

Steps to Take in an Evacuation

Not only do you have to plan where you will go in case of an evacuation, but you also have to know how you will get there.

Plan to practice your evacuation route twice a year so that everyone knows the steps to follow. 

Make sure that you know what to do with pets and where you will stay if your first evacuation location is unavailable.

Always have a backup location.

Plan for All Family Members

Some families have members who will need additional help. You need to make sure that you are able to provide special accommodations or assistance to elderly, children, or family members with special needs.

Special needs will change over time, so it is important to revise and alter your safety plan to account for individual changes in need.

Connect with Loved Ones

It’s important that you connect with loved ones so that they know that you are safe after an emergency. This will prevent out-of-town family members from panicking and from making poor decisions and trying to come to your area to help you.

Keep Important Documents

When faced with an evacuation you need to make sure that you take important documents with you. Some of the documents that you will want to bring include:

·         Passports and driver’s licenses

·         Social security cards

·         Employment information and tax returns

·         Stocks, bonds, wills, and deeds

·         Copies of all medical records

·         ID tags for animals

·         Bank and retirement account numbers

Make Sure Your Children Know Their Personal Information

It’s easy to let children grow up without knowing their last name, phone number, and address, but I think that all kids need to know this information. When children know this information then they will be much better able to get help from emergency personnel if they are separated from you. 

Know Who to Contact From Your Community

Every community will have their own procedure for dealing with an emergency. Make sure that you know who to contact after an emergency so that you can get help. Keep these contacts listed on each members emergency plan copy.

Turn Off Utilities

Every family member mature enough to handle turning off utilities should know how. This includes electricity, water, oil, and gas. Note in your emergency plan who is responsible for turning off utilities.

Ensure Home Fire Safety

Make sure that all floors of your home have working smoke detector with fresh batteries.

Also a fire extinguisher that is within date and operational must be kept in the home. 

Make Sure Your Car Always Has Gas

It’s easy to drive around with less than half a tank of gas in your car, but by making sure that you always have at least half a tank, you will be much better prepared in the event of an emergency.

Maintain Appropriate Insurance

Having enough insurance for your home, property, and car will give you peace of mind knowing that if there is an emergency, you will be covered. It’s important to have an insurance checkup once a year to ensure that you have adequate coverage.

Learn How to Survive on Your Own

Remember that you and your family may have to survive on your own for a short period of time. While this can be daunting, the better you prepare, the better off you will be. Make sure that you know how to survive on your own.

Maintain a Three Day Survival Kit

It is possible, when you are in an emergency situation, that you may have to be able to survive on your own for a few days. 

Building an emergency kit for the members of your family is incredibly important. 

You will need to include a number of items in your kit, including:

·         Water and food

·         Clothing

·         First aid kit

·         Medication

·         Survival tools

·         Compass, map, and whistle

·         Poncho

·         Nylon rope and sewing kit

Practice Your Plan with Your Family

A family emergency plan is only as good as it can be followed. 

Once you have taken the time to create a family emergency plan, then you need to make sure that you practice it. 

This will not only allow you to see if there are any problems with your plan, but will make everyone in your family much more comfortable when an emergency actually occurs. 

Many people may feel a little silly practicing their plan, but it’s important to go through all of the steps and to even pretend that plans have changed to see how easily your family members can adapt.

I practice with my family at least every six months.

Some elements you will want to practice include:

·         Bringing emergency kits with them to the meeting place

·         Pretending to get out of bed in the dark to meet

·         Using secondary exits of the home

·         Contacting out-of-state contacts


Nobody wants to think that they will ever be faced with an emergency, but you very well may be. The best way to protect your family is to practice what you will do when faced with a problem. Making sure that you take the time to create and practice a plan is the best way to prepare for the future. Ensure that your plan addressing the individual needs of your family and the community in which you live.

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