Family Disaster Planning

Emergency personnel say the most striking aspect of many recent disasters has been the lack of public preparation. Disasters can strike quickly and without warning. They can force a family to evacuate their neighborhood or confine them to their home. Creating a family disaster plan covering what to do if family members are separated, or if basic services like water, gas, electricity or telephones were cut off can be a lifesaver; literally.

Experts insist there is a dire need for every family to have the food, water, and personal resources to withstand a prolonged loss of basic services. All are part of a family disaster plan and a major theme of Lakewood’s “Survive for 7” campaign.

Just simple, very basic preparations could have saved so many people so much," said Michael Amado, Director of Preparedness for the Greater Long Beach Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Where’s the best place to start a family disaster plan? Around the dinner table, in a frank discussion with family members, young and old, about what each should do if a disaster strikes. The discussion could start with a decision about where family members should gather outside of the house when the immediate impact of the disaster is over.

A family plan should include identifying a single “family contact” who can be called if family members are away from home when the disaster strikes. (It’s often easier to make a long-distance call than a local one immediately after a disaster, so the “family contact” could be a relative living in another state.)

“Get all of that information in a family inventory,” notes Deputy City Manager Carol Jacoby. “Get telephone numbers, work and school addresses, and schedules in your disaster plan, too, along with medical and insurance information.”

Getting out of the house will be safer if family members participate in developing an evacuation plan that gives everyone a specific escape route. Pets should be included. Evacuation plans should also include what each family member will do if a disaster finds someone at home, others at work or school, and someone in a day-care program.

Steps to Creating a Disaster Plan

  • Meet with your family and discuss why you need to prepare for disaster. Explain the dangers of fire, severe weather, and earthquakes to children. Plan to share responsibilities and work together as a team.
  • Discuss the types of disasters that are most likely to happen. Explain what to do in each case.
  • Pick two places to meet:
    • Right outside your home in case of a sudden emergency, like a fire.
    • Outside your neighborhood in case you can't return home. Everyone must know the address and phone number.
  • Ask an out-of-state friend to be your "family contact." After a disaster, it's often easier to call long distance. Other family members should call this person and tell them where they are. Everyone must know your contact's phone number.
  • Discuss what to do in an evacuation. Plan how to take care of your pets.

The plan won’t work unless it’s tested. Evacuation drills also reassure youngsters that they and their parents will be safe. That confidence is an often overlooked essential for successfully weathering a disaster. “Prepare a basic disaster get-away kit for every family member,” reminds Jacoby, “It should have the supplies each will need for up to week: medicines, clothing, a flashlight and batteries, and lightweight food items that are replaced before their expiration date.”

Additional Disaster Plan Checklist Items

  • Post emergency telephone numbers by phones (fire, police, ambulance, etc.).
  • Teach children how and when to call 9-1-1 or your local Emergency Medical Services number for emergency help.
  • Show each family member how and when to turn off the utilities (water, gas, and electricity) at the main switches.
  • Check if you have adequate insurance coverage.
  • Be prepared to confine or secure your pets.
  • Check on your neighbors, especially elderly or disabled persons.
  • Make sure you have an adequate water supply in case service is cut off.
  • Stay away from downed power lines.
  • Get training from the fire department for each family member on how to use the fire extinguisher (ABC type), and show them where it's kept.
  • Install smoke detectors on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms.
  • Stock emergency supplies and assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit.
  • Take a Red Cross first aid and CPR class.
  • Determine the best escape routes from your home. Find two ways out of each room.
  • Find the safe places in your home for each type of disaster.

Neighbors Helping Neighbors

As part of your planning, think ahead and expect to work with your neighbors to save lives and property. Meet with your neighbors to plan how the neighborhood could work together after a disaster until help arrives. Getting involved in Neighborhood Watch and the CERT program is an ideal way to pursue this.