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How do I create a family disaster plan?

Weather Emergency Planning

Both natural and man-made disasters can happen at any time. Depending on the type of disaster, a family may need to evacuate their home or be unable to leave their home for an extended period. Tornados, hurricanes, flooding, wildfires, earthquakes, ice storms, and heavy snow can all cause power outages and present other dangers. While parents and caregivers should never seek to alarm or scare their children, communication is key in developing a family disaster plan and children should be included in planning to some extent. Here are some basic steps to developing a family disaster plan that will help ensure your family's safety:

1. Research what type of disasters are most likely to happen within your community. 

The best place to start when creating a family disaster plan is by considering what disasters are most likely to occur where you live. Families can reach out to both their local emergency management office or American Red Cross chapter to gauge what sorts of disasters most often affect their community and begin planning from there. Find out what sort of early warning systems your local government has in place and what should be done when they’re triggered. If the disaster is most likely a hurricane, make a mental note for an evacuation plan. If the disaster will most likely cause power loss, begin figuring out your backup power source. 

2. Put a plan in writing and designate responsibilities for each family member. 

Schedule a family meeting to work through the family disaster plan together. Even very young children can share in responsibilities, like taking time to learn their name, address, and phone number. Before designating responsibilities to each family member, explain to children the dangers of severe weather, natural disasters, and man-made disasters. Keep explanations brief and to the pointand focus on how a family plan will keep them safe. Basic information should include: two safe meeting places, one outside the home and one outside the neighborhood; communication information, including contact info for all family members should they be separated when a disaster occurs; a family contact, someone who lives outside of your affected area who can act as a family liaison; an evacuation plan, with arrangements to stay with a friend or family members home or local shelter; basic escape routes, both for getting outside of your home (in case of fire) and for getting outside of your town/city; and a pet care plan, with guidance for any pets who may not be allowed to accompany families into shelters, etc. Assign responsibilities like gathering supplies or organizing health and financial information to adults in the family. Lastly, it’s important to consider what disaster plans are in place at both your workplace and your child’s daycare center or preschool and plan for those scenarios as well.

3. Maintain a checklist with important information. 

There is a lot of important information to keep written down in a family disaster plan, and parents will want to make sure it includes the following: all family members’  contact information; emergency telephone numbers, like poison control or the police; pet info and any relevant information; outside family contact information (a designated contact who lives outside any potentially affected areas); all-important family medical information, including allergy information or other prescription medication instructions; and more. Your checklist (or family disaster planning documents) should also include multiple copies of vital records like birth and marriage certificates, financial records, wills, tax records and more. A home and property inventory are also smart to keep on hand for insurance purposes, should your home or possessions be damaged or lost during the disaster. Lastly, store these important backup papers and records somewhere other than home should your home be seriously damaged. Easy to follow and printable formats for emergency planning checklists can be found both at and

4. Gather and store necessary supplies. 

Assembling a disaster supplies kit may be something the entire family can do together. The goal is to have enough supplies in your home to meet each family member’s needs for three days. This would include water (1 gallon per person per day), non-perishable food items and anything else individual family members may need (like medication). Other basic items that parents and caregivers should include in their disaster supplies kit are: a first aid kit, flashlight, extra batteries, a whistle (to signal for help), a battery-powered NOAA Weather Radio, face masks (to filter contaminated air), local maps, extra cell phone chargers and backup batteries, wipes, duct tape, wrench or pliers (for shutting off utilities), and a manual can opener for food, extra changes of clothes, some personal hygiene items, a spare set of home and car keys, matches, candles, work gloves, and extra cash. Should you need to evacuate or leave home, be sure to pack your important documents and financial information with your other disaster supplies. 

5. Practice your disaster plan. 

The best family disaster plan won’t be of much help if family members aren’t regularly reminded about what should be done during different disasters. Practicing your plan together is a great team building exercise that can improve your overall response time to emergencies and allow you to make tweaks and changes as needed to improve safety and efficiency. Fire and other evacuation drills should be practiced every six months, and children should be quizzed on important information they need to know at those times as well. You’ll want to make sure your children can remember what to do, where to go, who to call and other safety practices at least twice a year. Test your home’s smoke alarms monthly and replace batteries once a year. Every six months, stored food and water should also be replaced, and fire extinguishers need to be inspected regularly. As with many things, practice makes perfect when it comes to disaster preparedness. 

While disasters often strike quickly and without warning, families can better cope with disaster by being prepared to work together as a team. Knowing what each family member should do in different scenarios offers the best protection, and it’s a parent’s and caregiver’s responsibility to have a safety plan in place and practice it often. Find out more information about family disaster planning and find printable Family Emergency Plans at More information can also be found at local emergency management offices or at

By ABC Quality Team on November 8, 2022