Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Preparing Your Family for an Emergency

Among other things, September is National Preparedness Month.

This means it's time to shore up your preparations for unexpected emergencies. This kind of preparation is especially important if you have children or other family members dependent upon you.

You should be asking yourself, do I have enough supplies to get through an emergency where grocery and water supplies might be interrupted? Do I know my school or childcare's emergency plans? How will I reunite my family after an emergency?

Here is a link to an article about emergency planning for families. Among the important points of the article, the author points out that:
  • Despite their disaster risk concerns, the majority of parents (63 percent) are not very familiar with emergency plans at their child’s school or child care
  • Two thirds (67 percent) don’t know if emergency drills are held frequently, or at all
  • Two in five (42 percent) wouldn't know where to reunite with children if evacuated from school or child care
So let's talk about a few important points for family emergency planning:

  • Family Emergency Kits
  • Family Communication Plans
  • Evaluating School Emergency Plans 
Family Emergency Kits

Many parents haven’t set aside key disaster supplies, such as the bare minimum three-day supply of food and water. (Most experts agree that a five-to-seven-day supply is better, and many recommend at least a two-week supply.)

It's most optimal to have multiple kits; one for at home, one in an outbuilding or garage near your home in case you can't get into your home due to damage, and one for your car in case you are away from home when an emergency occurs. Some people choose to have a small emergency kit for their workplaces as well.

These kits don't need to be elaborate. Remember, something is better than nothing.

Yet nothing is what most people have. Even if your kit isn't perfect or doesn't have every recommended thing in it, get SOMETHING going.


The most critical thing to have on hand after a disaster is fresh drinking water ("potable" water). Have a gallon of fresh water in your car, just in case. Because a car is subject to extremes of temperatures, this water should be rotated every 6-12 months, but this is a very easy thing to do.

At home, store a few 5-gallon containers of drinking water in your house or outbuilding in case your regular water supply is disrupted. Each person in the household needs at least 1 gallon of water per day. Don't forget to add in some water for pets too.

Portable water bottles are an important part of any emergency kit. The best are stainless steel so they can be directly heated over a fire.

You should also have a way to filter and purify water in case the emergency extends beyond your stored water supply. You can read more about that process here. Water storage and purification supplies can be bought at most camping stores.


Ready-made snacks are helpful for your emergency kit. Foods such as granola bars, energy bars, and fruit leather pack well and last a long time. Don't forget food for your pets too.

Emergency Information Card

An emergency information card is helpful. This should contain a recent picture of your child, a recent picture of your family, emergency contact information for family members, home address and phone number, the name and number for your child's doctor, a physical description of your child, a list of any special conditions/medications, and an out-of-state emergency contact. 

Most children benefit from a small activity in their emergency bag. A deck of cards, a small game, or a few small toys give an evacuated child something to do and bring a sense of familiarity and safety to an insecure situation. Young children also benefit from a comfort object, like a small stuffed animal, as well as a hand-written letter from a parent to offer them reassurance and love.

Family Communication Plan

Think of all the time you spend separated from your children each day, either due to work or school or their various activities. If an emergency occurs when you are away from your children, how will you find each other? How will you communicate?

A Family Communication Plan can help family members reconnect after an emergency. This doesn't have to be an elaborate plan; it can be quite simple. The key is to have talked about your plan before an emergency occurs.

Create Paper Back-Ups of Important Numbers

Create a paper copy of important contact phone numbers; this can be combined with the emergency information card listed above. Store a copy in each person's backpack, purse, or vehicle.

Most kids today don't bother to memorize their parents' cell phone or work numbers, let alone their relatives' numbers. It's all in their cell phones, so they don't feel the need to memorize anything. But phones fail, get damaged, get lost, or run out of power. Having a paper copy with all contact information on it is important as a back-up.

Even if your child knows all these numbers by heart, a person under stress can forget everyday information like where they live or their own phone number.Memorizing important phone numbers is still a good thing to do, but it's best to have paper back-up too, just in case.

Also designate an out-of-state contact as your emergency notification number. Ironically, it is often easier to reach someone out of state than it is to reach someone locally after a disaster. Have someone far away be the person who helps facilitate communication between family members. Have that number programmed into everyone's phone and written into your emergency information card.


If a disaster occurs, your first priority is securing your own safety and that of those around you. As soon as you can manage, however, use your cell phone to send a text message to your family members. Remember, experts recommend that you TEXT, DON'T TALK. 

After an emergency, phone networks will be overwhelmed, and many cell towers will go down pretty quickly or have limited power. Texting takes only a brief amount of power and as a result texts are much more likely to go through during an emergency.

Create a texting tree for your most important contacts. Send a brief message as soon as you safely can after an emergency, as it is more likely to get through sooner than later. Briefly summarize how you are and where you are, remind everyone of your designated meeting place, and tell them to update their status with the out-of-state emergency contact.

You can also briefly post to social media like Facebook or Twitter to let a wider circle of people know that you are all right. Minimize contact, though, to reduce network congestion and help others get through to their families.

The Red Cross also has a program called "Safe and Well" which can help you communicate with loved ones in a disaster. This can help people who have been evacuated to a shelter but who may have very limited online access to connect with loved ones.

Put "ICE" Contacts Onto Your Phone

Identify several ICE ("In Case of Emergency") contacts and program them into your phone. There are smartphone ICE apps now (some free, some at a very low cost) that will show ICE numbers on the cover wallpaper of your cell phone (without someone having to know your phone code to unlock it).

Emergency Responders have been trained to look at your phone to see if there are ICE numbers available. If you are unconscious, they will contact those ICE numbers for you. The emergency information card in your wallet or purse can also serve this function if your phone is damaged or lost, but most Emergency Responders will look at your phone first.

Again, have the information in more than one place. Have it on your phone because that is the first place Emergency Responders will look, and also on a paper back-up in case your phone is broken or not accessible.

Designate a Family Meeting Place

If the family is apart when an emergency happens, where will you meet? The first choice is usually at home, but what if your home is damaged or the neighborhood off-limits because of road washouts from a storm or toxic fumes from a chemical spill?

Be specific about where you'll meet. If you are going to meet at a church, are you going to meet in on the front steps? The back entrance? By the announcements board?

Designate a back-up emergency meeting place in case your first choice doesn't work out. Experts also suggest a regional meeting place in case you have to evacuate out of the immediate area and are not allowed to return for a while.

Establish Retrieval Responsibilities 

Establish ahead of time who is responsible for retrieving which child. If you have multiple children in different schools or activities, having someone assigned ahead of time to each of those children will help minimize duplication of efforts and wasted time. If there is only one parent available, then establish a routine of which child will be fetched in what order (usually youngest to oldest).

Evaluating School Emergency Plans

By a certain age, most kids spend considerable time away from their parents at school or daycare or other activities. How can you help these organizations improve the students' safety profile for when you are not there?

One way to help them is to evaluate their emergency plans and press them to improve drills and planning. Another is to familiarize yourself with their Family Reunification Plan.

Improving Emergency Drills

Your school undoubtedly already holds regular fire drills, since this is required of all public and private schools by law. However, you should ask further questions about the types of drills your school holds. Some not only have fire drills, they also have drills unique to the potential disasters in their area, such as earthquakes, tornadoes, or tsunamis. In addition, many schools these days have Lock-Down Drills and Shelter-In-Place Drills. Ask your school which drills they are holding and press them to hold drills appropriate to the area they are in. 

Also encourage your school administrator to hold emergency drills with a twist. Many kids know exactly what to do if a fire drill occurs in the middle of class (which is when nearly all fire drills are held). But what if a fire occurs during recess? During passing time/bathroom breaks? What if your child's designated exit is blocked during the fire? It's important for schools to practice not just "plain vanilla" drills, but also Deluxe Drills, where unexpected things happen or where drills occur at times of more confusion. 

Reunification Plan

Become familiar with your school's Emergency Reunification Plan. Would you know where you should report to pick up your child in an emergency? Do you know what the protocol is to sign your student out?

Because schools are legally accountable for knowing where students are at all times, there must be an orderly reunification process that documents all actions. Parents will not be allowed to just rush in and grab their children and leave. 

Usually students will be evacuated to a designated area, away from parents and the school building. Parents come to an assigned reunification area and request their student. A runner brings the child to the reunification area, the parent shows ID verifying their identity and signs the child out, and then the parent may leave with the child.

You can save a lot of time and stress by knowing ahead of time where the reunification area is and heading straight there. Also ask how your school plans to communicate with parents in an emergency situation if power is out or phone networks are overwhelmed. It may be that the planned reunification area has to be moved.

As with emergency drills, work with your administrators to improve the planning around the family reunification process. Encourage them to actually do a dry run some time so they can see what the strengths and weaknesses of the procedure are before a true emergency occurs. 


Emergencies can be scary, but remember, most don't turn into life and death situations. Even so, having a good emergency kit, a family communication plan, and knowing your school's emergency plans can help keep an emergency situation more low-key and less confusing.

And in a true emergency, these things might just save some lives. So take the opportunity of National Preparedness Month and review your family emergency planning today.


Julie S. said...

Great article. Being prepared is so important, and many of us get too lazy on that topic. Thanks for the tips and suggestions of what we need to stock up on :)

Mich said...

Good post in our Canadian "winter". 30,000 homes were without power for a day when trees downed the lines. I remember what I did last year though, during the flood.

I came across this today: http://lifestyle.ca.msn.com/family-parenting/conception-pregnancy/study-shows-greener-neighbourhoods-home-to-bigger-babies and was wondering what your take on that is. They say it's a good thing, instead of part of the obesity panic.

Well-Rounded Mama said...

Interesting article; thanks for sharing, Mich. Not sure what to make of it. I'm a big believer in green space and more nature for people, but I'm not sure how significant this study really is. I don't think I'd totally discount it but I'm not sure I take it overly seriously either. I'd need to know a lot more about the field and other similar studies before I'd give it too much credence. Seems like there are a lot of other factors that could influence something like this, even though they controlled for some of them.