Earthquakes are unpredictable. They don’t wait for us to be home with our families and earthquake bags nearby. When an earthquake strikes, you could be anywhere. That’s why it’s so important to have an emergency communication plan for your family.
What is an emergency communication plan?
Living on the West Coast, we know that an earthquake can hit at any time – even when we are not with our family members.
Despite their unpredictability, you can prepare for an earthquake. FEMA and the CDC recommend 3 steps to ensure that you are always prepared: get your earthquake bag packed, your home ready, and have an emergency communication plan in place for your family.
An emergency communication plan is a part of earthquake preparation. It’s a short plan that determines how, when, and with what your family will communicate after an earthquake.
What should my emergency communication plan include?
While an emergency communication plan won’t be identical for every family, an effective plan should have a few basic elements.
- A communication team
- Contact information cards
- Out-of-town emergency contact
- Meeting place
Establish a team
Your communication team should include your immediate family members. You may also need to include adults who supervise loved ones, like children or elderly parents.
Contact information for each family member.
Each family member should have access to a list of contact information for all members of the team. This might be a note saved to a phone, or even a laminated card for children to keep in their backpack. If your loved one is hurt, someone will be able to contact the team and keep them updated.
Out-of-town emergency contact.
Your team should also include an out-of-town emergency contact. Panicked citizens often jam local phone lines, but long-distance calls may still be available. Having an emergency contact in another town or state will make it easier to connect. This person can also act as a central point of contact for all family and friends.
Emergency meeting place
Once you know the safety and whereabouts of your family members, you should all head toward your emergency meeting place. This safe location must be easily accessible to all members of your family, including pets.
Timeline for communications and meetings
Finally, your plan should include a timeline for when, where, and how each team member should communicate after an emergency.
Tips for communicating after an earthquake
- Keep it short. Save your phone’s battery by keeping conversations short and turning down your screen’s brightness.
- Text is best. Texting from your cell phone requires less bandwidth and is more likely to reach the recipient.
- Use social media. If you’re able to access wi-fi, use social media to post a status update or mark yourself safe in the event of an emergency. This can help free up your phone line by minimizing the number of calls from well-meaning relatives who are not a part of your communication team.
- Prepare everyone. Make sure even the youngest members of your family know how to dial 911 on a phone.
Even the youngest members of your team can learn how to call emergency services.
What if I don’t have access to a phone after an earthquake?
If your phone is lost or broken, you will need an alternative communication. Consider storing cheap prepaid cell phone in your emergency bag. Pre-program it with all the numbers you may need and make sure you have a backup power option in your bag to charge it.
What do I do if I can’t reach a family member?
If you are unable to reach them by phone, and they have not checked in on social media, you can alert the authorities to their last known whereabouts.
What about my pets?
Assign a team member to check on pets and bring them to your meeting place after an emergency. If you cannot find them right away, they may be hiding. Leave out some food and check back for them after a few hours.
You Can Be More Prepared Today
It might seem frightening to think about all the possible outcomes of an earthquake, but it is a necessary step to preparation.
The good news is that you can start preparing today.
Get an earthquake bag started for your home and your car. Create a communication plan with your family and notify out-of-town contacts. Program important numbers into your phone or print an emergency contact card for each member of your family.
Earthquakes are scary, preparing for them doesn’t have to be.