2018 brought the deadliest wildfire in California history, the worst hurricane to hit the Atlantic Coast since 1969, the loss of 21 lives during the Montecito mudslides, and flash flooding in Ellicott City, Maryland that turned streets into rivers. Public safety officers in local governments across the nation have realized that it’s not a matter of if a disaster will strike, but when. In times of crisis, citizens will turn to their local government for guidance, resources, and instructions. One of the best ways to serve your citizens is to help them prepare for the inevitability of an emergency. A critical component of citizen emergency preparedness should involve the creation of a family emergency communication plan. By encouraging all families to develop a quickly actionable plan, when a disaster strikes, they will be one step ahead of the chaos of uncertainty and best able to minimize their risk of injury and loss.
How to Create a Family Emergency Communication Plan
Share the tips below with your citizens and encourage them to take proactive steps to prepare for an emergency.
1. Identify the Types of Disasters that Pose the Greatest Risk to Your Community
Preparing for a hurricane requires some different precautionary preparations and evacuation procedures than preparing and evacuating during a wildfire. By understanding the risks your community faces based on its geography and weather patterns, you can create a plan that is targeted, actionable, and efficient.
2. Outline How to Reconnect if Separated
It’s a terrifying thought for parents, but in reality, if an unexpected disaster strikes, your family may not all be together. Identify a trusted communication method to ensure you can reach one another during or immediately following a crisis event.
3. Establish a Designated Meeting Area
If a tornado, mudslide, or wildfire destroys your home, you will need a designated meeting area to reconvene with your family if separated. Your local government may have established dedicated shelters for citizens displaced during a disaster. Consider making such locations part of your family’s emergency plan.
4. Sign Up for Emergency Alerts
A critical aspect of disaster preparations, response, and recovery involves remaining informed of a storm or event’s progress. Don’t wait until a disaster strikes to seek out local mass notification subscription options. Sign your family up now for local weather and disaster alerts so that if an unexpected event occurs, you will be among the first to know. In Manter, Kansas, citizen Nina Sipes was able to evacuate herself, and notify friends and neighbors of an impending wildfire, because she previously signed up to receive emergency alerts from her local county sheriff’s office.
5. Know Your Evacuation Route
“Receiving that early text message allowed us to coordinate our safety activity,” said Sipes.
Every resident needs to know the most effective route to leave an area in the event of hazardous weather conditions. Whether you are escaping a blizzard, hurricane, or wildfire, know the safest route should your local leaders mandate an evacuation, and have a plan for where to go. Talk to friends and family who live in other communities in advance and identify alternative housing resources if needed.
6. Document Vital Contact Information
Don’t assume you will have access to your cell phone in an emergency. Create a list of essential phone numbers, including friends and family, doctor’s offices, pharmacies, utility companies, and public safety resources in advance and store it in a safe, accessible location in your home to reference if needed. Include your extended family members’ home phone numbers. Teens reliant on cell phones may not have their home or work phone numbers memorized. If they become separated from their cell phone and its memory card during a disaster, they will need an alternate way to reach you.
7. Plan for Those in Need of Special Accommodations
Customize your family’s emergency response plan based on your unique needs. If you care for an elderly family member living in an assisted living facility, if you have pets, or if you have a child with special needs, be sure to have a plan to stay in touch, have access to necessary medications and assistive equipment, and evacuate safely together.8. Print Copies of Your Plan
Condense your plan to its most essential elements—how to contact one another, where to go, and how to contact emergency resources—print it, and give a copy to every member of your family. Even a business card-sized document stored in a child’s backpack may make a critical difference during a local emergency.
9. Practice Your Emergency Communication Plan
Creating a family emergency plan means hoping never to have to use it—but you all still need to practice to ensure it is feasible. Ask the youngest member of your family to practice sending a group text, or calling your out-of-town family resource. Practice quickly packing overnight bags and compiling emergency supplies, such as flashlights, batteries, blankets, water, and a weather radio. Practicing your plan will also ensure if an unexpected disaster strikes, you quickly recall the steps needed to seek safety.
The thought of losing everything during a disaster is terrifying, but the thought of losing a loved one is inconceivable. By preparing an emergency communication plan in advance, you give your family the best chance of evacuating safely, remaining together, and recovering quickly, no matter the disaster.