12 Steps To The Best Home Emergency Plan
Do you know what the difference between peace of mind and panic is?
An emergency plan!
Creating a home emergency plan is a great way to protect your family and bring peace of mind to your loved ones. Unfortunately, according to a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) survey, only 39% of Americans have one.
While it may seem overwhelming at first, the good news is that it isn’t that hard or time-consuming. In this article, I simplify creating a home emergency plan into an easy-to-follow step-by-step list of tasks. Even if you already have a plan, I think you will still find some useful ideas and tips.
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What Is A Home Emergency Plan?
A home emergency plan is a household’s written outline of how to respond to different emergencies. At a minimum, it should include plans for shelter, evacuation, and communication during an emergency. However, the most effective plans include a thorough list of responsibilities, contacts, and emergency supplies. A home emergency plan is the cornerstone of a family’s overall emergency preparedness plan.
Why Do You Need An Emergency Plan?
Every household should take the time to create and regularly update their disaster plan for several reasons. Being prepared enables you to:
How Do I Create AN Emergency Plan?
1. Determine Your Risks
First, you must clearly define what your disaster plan covers. Make a list of the most likely emergencies in your area. Use the following four categories:
What natural disasters are most common where you live? Disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, wildfires, floods, and blizzards all belong in this category.
Industrial accidents can make your local environment unsafe. For example, disasters caused by nuclear power or chemical plants can pollute the water or air in your area.
This category includes artificial events like home fires, active shooters, and civil unrest.
Biological disasters such as the coronavirus pandemic and recent outbreaks of measles and typhus are examples of this category.
2. Learn About Alerts
Once you’ve written your list of potential disasters, the second step is to note how you will be alerted. There are several systems used to warn people of potential hazards. They include the following:
Emergency Alert System (EAS)
The Emergency Alert System is a national public warning system that replaced the Emergency Broadcast System in 1997. The EAS may be used by federal, state, or local officials during an emergency.
NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards (NWR)
The NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards is a nationwide network of radio stations. They broadcast weather information 24 hours a day from the National Weather Service.
Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA)
Wireless Emergency Alerts are alerts sent to mobile phones. These alerts quickly inform people about significant local emergencies. A WEA can be sent by state and local officials, the National Weather Service, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the United States president.
Severe Weather Sirens
Some parts of the country have a system of outside sirens that warn about tornados or high wind weather. These sirens alert people when it is unsafe to be outside.
What Should My Home Emergency Plan Include?
3. Make A Shelter And Evacuation Plan
Now that you’ve clearly defined what emergencies your plan covers, it’s time to make some decisions. During a disaster, you may need to shelter or evacuate from your home. Select meeting places for each of the categories below. Then, assign a shelter or evacuation option to each emergency on your list.
Many emergencies do not require a specific response. In this case, remain vigilant and wait for more information from public officials.
Public authorities issue stay-at-home orders. They require people to stay inside their homes as much as possible.
Similarly, some events require you to shelter-in-place wherever you are at the time. In these cases, you should follow the direction of public officials until the event has passed.
There are, however, several types of emergencies that do require evacuation. Sometimes there will be warning and time to prepare. Other times an emergency evacuation will need to be immediate. Always follow the instructions of local authorities and evacuate when ordered.
In these instances, preparing ahead of time helps you evacuate more efficiently and safely. So, it is useful to agree on meeting places with your family for each of the following:
First, make sure everyone in your family knows the best places in the house to get protection during natural disasters like tornados, hurricanes, or earthquakes.
Second, select an area in your neighborhood as a meeting place. Meet here when an emergency forces you to leave your home, but your neighborhood is still safe.
Next, select a location in your city or town where your family members can meet in the event you must evacuate your neighborhood.
Then, select a meeting place somewhere outside your city or town if you cannot safely meet at your local meeting spot. Select a few locations in different directions from your home.
• Mass Care Shelter
Mass care shelters are facilities set up to provide water, food, medicine, and sanitation services to many people after a disaster. Your next step is to determine where the closest mass care shelters are so you will know where to go if needed.
• Pet Shelters
Finally, where can you take your pets in the event you must evacuate? Look for a few options near your home to take your pets during an emergency.
4. Create A Family Communication Plan
Your family may be apart during an emergency. This is why you need a communication plan to contact each other quickly. The communication plan is a critical part of a family emergency plan. You can build your own communication plan very easily with the following steps:
First, confirm that all family members store everyone else’s contact information on their mobile phones.
Second, make sure everyone designates at least one person as an “in case of emergency” or “ICE” contact in their phone.
After a disaster, wireless networks, electricity, and other infrastructure may be compromised, overwhelmed, and unreliable. Texts are the best way to communicate following a disaster. They use significantly less bandwidth and may still work on an overwhelmed wireless network.
So, have everyone in your home set up an emergency group text ahead of time.
However, if phone networks are still working, it is important to be as efficient as possible. Therefore, it helps to appoint one member of your family as a primary point of contact. Rather than calling everyone, family members should reach out to the point person with their status. The point person can then share the information with everyone else. If possible, allow family members to access voicemails on the point person’s phone.
Even when local wireless networks are overwhelmed, you may still be able to make a long-distance call. For this reason, you should select an out-of-town family member or close friend as a backup point of contact.
Discuss What To Say
Lastly, texts and phone calls should be short and direct. Discuss what information needs to be communicated during an emergency. For example, your location, who else is with you, and whether you are safe are the most important details.
5. Make A Family Contact List
After completing your communication plan, it’s time to build a thorough contact list. This is another essential part of a good home emergency plan. Start by compiling all contact numbers and email addresses for your family. Make sure to include:
- Places You Frequent Often
- Friends You See Often
- Your Local and Out-Of-Town Emergency Contacts
6. Think About Special Needs Or Requirements
Then, spend some time thinking about each person on your contact list. Do any members of your family have any special needs or requirements to consider if you must shelter or evacuate? Make sure to consider everyone’s:
- Medical Conditions (including prescriptions)
- Disabilities (including any required devices or equipment)
- Languages Spoken
- Cultural and Religious Needs
- Pets or Service Animals
7. Discuss Everyone’s Responsibilities
Next, make a list of tasks to complete if you have time before evacuating. Include any special needs from the previous step on this list. Also, assign a primary and backup person to each important task. Some tasks to consider are:
- Shutting Off the Gas
- Shutting Off the Power
- Unplug Electrical Equipment
- Turning Off the Water
- Transporting Pets to a Shelter
- Moving Cars to a Safe Location
- Packing the Emergency Kit
- Leave a Note on Your Door Listing When and Where You Evacuated
8. Expand Your Contact List
Now, it’s time to expand your contact list to include important non-family phone numbers. Make sure to include:
- Primary-Care Physician
- Specialist Physicians
- Local Hospitals
- Non-Emergency Police
- Non-Emergency Fire
- Poison Control
9. Add Important Services To Your Contact List
Finally, collect phone numbers and account numbers for important services. Add them to your contact list. Some numbers to include are:
- Health Insurance
- Dental Insurance
- Home or Renters Insurance
- Auto Insurance
How Do I Implement My Home Emergency Plan?
10. Share Your Plan
Now that you have finished your family emergency plan, it’s time to share it.
- Distribute your plan to everyone in the family (including your local and out-of-town contacts).
- Talk to your work, school, and day-care providers about their plans. Also, share your plan with them.
- Post your plan in a central location in your home, like a bulletin board or refrigerator.
- Upload a digital version to a cloud site. Share it with anyone who could need access.
- Make sure everyone has a physical copy in their wallet, briefcase, backpack, or purse.
11. Practice Your Plan
Once you share your emergency plan, you still need to practice it. Choose a convenient time and run a family disaster drill. As the saying goes, “Practice makes perfect!”
- Confirm that everyone, including small children, can access the emergency phone settings on a locked mobile phone.
- Teach any children how and when to dial 911.
- Scout each of your meeting locations so everyone is familiar with the location. Discuss exactly where you would meet at the location.
- Discuss primary and alternate routes to each of your meeting locations.
- Run an emergency drill to practice evacuating, communicating, and meeting.
- Work on memorizing your family contact numbers.
12. Update Your Emergency Plan Regularly
Writing a home emergency plan is a big accomplishment. However, it is imperative to continue to update it regularly.
- Pick a time you can remember, like New Year’s Day or your birthday.
- Make it easy by adding a repeating reminder to your calendar.
How Can I Be More Prepared?
Let's Take The Next Step!
Congratulations! You’ve completed your home emergency plan. You should now have a good understanding of the types of emergencies you might face and how to handle them. In future articles, I will continue exploring this topic further.