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Preparing a family disaster plan

Kathy A. Johnson is a freelance writer and editor in central Florida. Her work has appeared online and in print publications ranging from Mothers & More Forum to Horse Journal.

Planning for natural disasters

From flooding to earthquakes, hurricanes to wild fires and tornadoes – natural disasters are a fact of life in many parts of the country. If you happen to live where you don’t need to prepare for a tornado or hurricane, you may still find yourself facing a fire or a chemical emergency. For any disaster or emergency, being prepared is crucial for keeping your family safe. Here’s how to prepare a family disaster plan that will help you weather a natural disaster or emergency and its aftermath.

Tips to prepare for a natural disaster or emergency

If you've recently moved to a new locale or have been fortunate enough to not experience any natural disasters, contact the local emergency management office or an American Red Cross chapter to determine the natural or human-caused emergencies most common in your area. Then sit down with your family and create a disaster plan.

Create a family disaster plan

Depending on your childrens' ages, you may want to include the whole family in the planning. Make the plan simple enough that everyone will remember it.

1. Plan for each natural disaster

There are a variety of natural disasters and emergencies, each requiring different means for survival. Determine a plan – for example, evacuation or shelter-in-place – to handle each type of disaster. In addition, know the emergency plans at your workplace and your childrens' schools or child care centers, and go over them with your family.

2. Designate an emergency contact

After a disaster, long-distance calls often stand a better chance of getting through than local calls. If your family gets separated after the disaster and can't reach each other, they should call the designated emergency contact to let that person know their location. Make sure everyone knows the contact's name, address and phone number. Family members may also have a better chance of getting a text message through than a landline phone call.

3. Plan for evacuation

Set up at least two places family members can meet in case of emergency: one right outside your home in case of fire or other sudden emergency, and one outside your neighborhood if you must evacuate or are away from home when disaster strikes. For both, map out routes to get out of the home as well as evacuation routes out of the area in case main roads are blocked or closed. If evacuation isn't possible, designate safe places in your home for each possible disaster. Consider the special needs of elderly or disabled family members and how you will help them.

4. Pet care

Many evacuation shelters and other public places will not allow pets. Compile a list of boarding kennels, vets, hotels and other places your pets will be welcome if you need to evacuate.

5. Create an emergency supplies kit

Ready America (www.ready.gov) recommends that your basic kit include:

  • Water (one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days)
  • Food (a three-day supply of non-perishable items – and a can opener to open canned food)
  • Battery powered or hand-crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert, and plenty of batteries for both
  • First aid kit
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask, plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers

Other recommended items include: prescription medications; infant formula and diapers; pet supplies; copies of important family documents (insurance policies, id, account records, etc.) in a portable, waterproof container; matches in a waterproof container; and "mess kits" of paper cups, plates and plastic utensils, and paper towels.

6. Practice your emergency plan

Periodically review and practice your natural disaster and emergency plans; this can help keep your family calm and ready to act when an emergency occurs and mere minutes count.

No one wants to experience a disaster, natural or human-caused. Being prepared by creating a family disaster plan will give you peace of mind should you ever be faced with an emergency.

More emergency preparedness tips

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