News reports of shortages in supplies in advance of the ice storm now hitting the southeast underscore the need to prepare for emergencies in advance – and not 24 hours in advance. Yes, you can plan on being able to go buy food, toilet paper, dog food, formula, shovels, generators, whatever before a storm hits – but what if the stores don’t have the supplies? What if you simply don’t have time? What if you don’t have the money at the time or gas in your car or some other Murphy’s Law situation?
Most survival stories involve planning in advance – the right gear, the right planning, the right training – for the emergency. Of course, stores abound of individuals surviving against incredible odds – but why stake a successful outcome on happenstance? It is easier to plan in advance. Of course, most plans don’t survive the emergency – but having put some thought into your emergency preparations, you will be much better off and have a higher chance of surviving successfully.
For most families, planning for an emergency is going to involve a family communications plan. It is highly likely that in the event of an emergency, family members and pets may be scattered. One or both parents may be at work. Kids may be at school or at some activity. A family member may be at church. Whatever. A family communications plan should involve a discussion about how you will communication and where you will meet. Where you will meet may vary depending on the hazard. Cell phones are great – but they may not be available depending on the emergency. Texts often have an easier time getting through – and kids should be instructed to text (assuming they have phones). Also, meeting locations should be arranged. My kids have three bug out locations in the event they are at school and must leave the school in the event of an emergency. We have prioritized the locations and discussed the locations with my kids. We’ve also been to the locations from school so that the kids know how to get there.
But talk these preparations out before the emergency. Talk with your kids about what to do if they can’t reach you after an earthquake or tornado, or where you should plan on meeting. And discuss how long it may take you to reach that meeting place in the event of a disaster.
So, to develop your emergency family communications plan, the first step is to meet with your family or household members and discuss the plan and options. Go over how to prepare and respond to the emergencies that are most likely to happen where you live, learn, work and play.
Make a decision and plan on what you will do if the family is separated during an emergency. Select at least two places to meet, one right near home in case there is a sudden emergency at home, such as a fire, and at least one outside your immediate neighborhood, in case you cannot return home or are asked to evacuate. If your kids are at school, I would recommend a third that is safe for them and in between their school and your house. If it is a friend’s house, make sure that friend knows that your kids may stage at the location.
Together, choose an out-of-area emergency contact person. It may be easier to text or call long distance if local phone lines are overloaded or out of service. Everyone should have this person’s emergency contact information in writing or saved on their cell phones, and the contact person should know that he or she may need to act to coordinate. That person should have some familiarity with your town to assist your children.
You may also want to invest in some handheld two way radios. They can be useful and easy to use.
If you need to evacuate, decide together where you would go and what route you would take to get there. You may choose to go to a hotel/motel, stay with friends or relatives in a safe location or go to an evacuation shelter if necessary. But make sure your kids understand what the plan is.
Practice, practice, practice. It may seem silly, but practice does make perfect. At least drive your planned evacuation route and plot alternate routes on your map in case roads are impassable.
And, of course, plan ahead for your pets. Keep a phone list of pet-friendly hotels/motels and animal shelters that are along your evacuation routes.
Don’t forget to remind your family members that the American Red Cross has its Safe and Well website to let family and friends know you are safe. Teach your kids how to use it too.