Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Emergency Phone Numbers to Keep Handy

If an emergency or health crisis hits, it's vital to have a list of important phone numbers handy to help you through the crisis.

It's even more helpful if you have generated this list of emergency numbers ahead of time, so you don't have to spend precious time scrambling to find the numbers you need.

This is one thing our family has learned from experience. It's especially important if you have children or elderly people who are dependent on you.

Making an Emergency Phone Number List 

If you don't already have an emergency phone list, start making one now. Make it a word processing document so you can update it as needed. Make the document as easy-to-read as you can.

Then program these phone numbers into your cell phone AND print them as a hard copy. 

Many people have their emergency phone numbers only in their cell phones, but then have none of them available if their cell phone runs out of battery power, is stolen, or is damaged. If you also have a hard copy of the numbers, you have a back-up to refer to if needed. Ideally, you should know the most important numbers by memory also (and train your children to know them too), but a hard copy is helpful because memory is sometimes unreliable in an emergency situation when under stress.

At home, hang a copy of these emergency numbers up on the wall by all your major phone receivers (or in a prominent place in the home, like on the kitchen refrigerator and in the master bedroom, if you only have cell service).

Include your name, home address, and phone number at the top of the page; many children (and even adults) forget their own contact information in the adrenaline rush of an emergency and find a nearby reminder to be helpful. If a family member has a known medical condition or significant allergy, you should include that information near the top as well.

Carry a hard copy of these emergency numbers in your purse/wallet, emergency supplies backpack, diaper bag, and car. You never know when you might need them while away from home.

Your family's emergency phone number list should include:
  1. Parent names and phone numbers (work, home, and cell)
  2. Guardian names and phone numbers (work, home, and cell)
  3. Relative names and phone numbers (work, home, and cell)
  4. Doctor names and phone numbers (for each member of the family)
  5. Dentist names and phone numbers (for each member of the family)
  6. Poison Control (1-800-222-1222)
  7. Nearby hospital phone numbers
  8. Your pharmacy's name and phone number
  9. Your veterinarian's name and phone number (and an animal hospital) if you have pets
  10. Neighbors (and their phone numbers) who could help out at your home until you could return
  11. Trusted local emergency contacts who you could call for help if needed
  12. Names and phone numbers for your children's schools (and daycare/babysitters, if applicable)
  13. Names and phone numbers for adult helpers at kids' activities (Scouts, sports, church, etc.)
  14. Out-of-State emergency contact phone numbers/names
  15. Your home, medical, and car insurance agents' names and contact information
  16. Your utility company contact numbers (water, electric, gas, etc.)
  17. Ambulance, Police, and Fire phone numbers if you are in an area not covered by 911 service
In each car/diaper bag, try to have a current picture of each member of the family. Keep both a hard copy and a digital copy, if possible, because there are certain scenarios in which one or the other form might be most useful. Having both digital and hard copies covers all eventualities.

Hopefully you will never need these emergency contacts, but in life, unexpected things happen. It's good to be prepared for the possibility of a civic emergency, an unexpected medical crisis, an extreme weather event, a sudden school closure, or even just a protracted traffic jam. And having both digital and hard copies of these numbers keeps you ready to respond even when your cell phone isn't working or available. And if cell service is out or overloaded, remember that often a text will go through when nothing else does.

Have children practice making an emergency phone call so they could do it without adult help if needed. Use a disconnected or toy phone and have them play-act dialing 911, telling emergency services about their emergency, and saying their phone number and address. If they are calling from a cell, they should know they may need to describe where they are so they can be located more easily. Emphasize the importance of staying calm and speaking as clearly as possible so the operator can understand them and help get the information needed. They should also know to unlock and open the front door so EMTs can get in, or to have somebody outside waiting for the ambulance.

Role-playing what to do in an emergency can help children respond more effectively, and having an easy-to-read, clear emergency contact list helps children convey information even if they become upset or disoriented. It may help save lives ─ maybe even yours.

Be Ready for Special Needs Family Members

Finally, if you are taking care of an elderly parent or other family member with significant health issues, you know what a hard job this can be.

To make this job easier, consider putting together an updated list of your loved one's medical conditions, health history, current medications, and doctor contact info. Keep this list with you at all times. You may also want to have a file folder at home that you can grab quickly, containing a copy of healthcare power of attorney, living will, and pertinent medical files if this might be needed.

This is the system I developed when I took care of my mother in her final years. Although she lived a long and mostly healthy life, by her mid-80s she did have quite a number of health conditions (as older people often do), including cardiac and neurological issues. After struggling to remember all her complicated medical history every time we went to the doctor or hospital, I developed this system to make things easier. (I kept her medical history on the back of my emergency phone contacts list so I had both critical items on the same piece of paper.)

Having a system like this can improve health and save lives. When I took over my mother's care, she was on a truckload of medications, many of which had interactions with each other. Through careful questioning and care coordination, we were able to reduce her medications considerably and minimize drug interactions. Her condition improved considerably when her medications were more carefully overseen, and my list was helpful in this process.

In addition, by keeping a detailed list of her prescriptions and their proper schedule, I was able to catch a number of medication errors before they happened at the hospital and at her nursing home. This was critical in keeping her quality of life good for as long as possible.

Like many elderly people, she did have a gradual health decline by the end and became a "frequent flyer" at the local hospital. Sometimes we were called into the E.R. in the middle of the night or on very short notice because of a complication. Those doctors depended on me to quickly fill in the blanks of her health history until they could get further details from her physicians, but it was often hard to remember everything on such short notice or in the middle of the night.

Having a pre-existing list of her conditions, history, prior surgeries, medications, and doctors made all of our lives so much easier. All I had to do was pull out the list, have them make a copy of it, and then answer any questions they had. This streamlined her treatment and minimized medication delays. They often thanked me for being so organized and told me they wished everyone kept such a list.

Taking care of a loved one with special medical needs is a hard job. It's also difficult for medical professionals, who must formulate a quick treatment plan for complicated cases. If they are delayed in finding out the patient's medications and medical history, critical treatment may also be delayed.

Having a special patient's updated medical history summary with you at all times can help expedite treatment and prevent many medical errors. It also can considerably lighten the heavy burden of overseeing the care of such family members.


Having an emergency contacts list with you at all times can help you deal with unexpected situations like weather emergencies, medical crises, or other challenges. Although most people carry emergency numbers in their cell phones, many don't have all the recommended numbers above in their cell phones, and few think to carry a hard copy too in case they don't have access to their cells.

Similarly, if you are one of the many people who care for a family member with special medical needs, it can be very helpful to also have their medical history summary on the back of your emergency contacts hard copy. List the person's conditions, doctors, doctor contact info, and medications/dosages/schedule and keep it nearby at all times. That way, if you are called in to help, you don't have to scramble to try to remember all the details accurately. The medical professionals you deal with will appreciate a concise summary like this.


Forms to help make an emergency contact list:
Advice on discussing how to make emergency calls with your child:


  1. Can I add to this that designating a Power of Attorney for Health Care makes life much easier. In my state, there is also a Mental Health Power of Attorney for Health Care. This is one of those things that MUST be done ahead of time when "I don't need it" so that it's ready when you do.

  2. Anonymous, I completely agree. That Healthcare Power of Attorney is sooo important. As is a Living Will. Have them done AHEAD of time and make sure you have discussed with your loved one what sort of measures they do and do not want. Very important.

    I did not know there was such a thing as a mental health power of attorney for health care. This was not needed for us, but for anyone for whom it might be needed, I agree it seems prudent to have ahead of time.