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Chapter 2: Creating Your Emergency Plan

After you’ve initiated the conversation, it’s time to start building your plan. Here’s a step-by-step outline to direct your planning and cover all the necessary bases, from communication to tools.

Communication and Regrouping

Step 1: Establish Your Team

Build a communication team to ensure those close to you have a plan to contact each other, whether they are safe or in need of assistance following a natural disaster. Consider including immediate friends, family members, and coworkers. Depending on your circumstances, also consider including adults who supervise young or elderly loved ones, pets, or other dependents.

We recommend starting a group text now (yes, right now!), titled something notable like “Emergency Team”, so you have easy access to reaching everyone simultaneously.

Step 2: Contact Cards

In an emergency, phone and text lines are likely to be down, so each member of your team should have access to a list of contact information for all members of the team close by. And, if someone is hurt or injured, emergency responders can easily contact their communication team. Further, communication cards are helpful for family members who speak different languages or are nonverbal. We recommend a combination of physical and digital.

For physical contact cards, use Redfora’s Emergency Contact Cards - they’re printable, include a comprehensive outline of what to include, and are easily laminated (which we recommend for durability). For digital, this takes just minutes to set up - low investment and incredibly high reward. Get it out of the way - we recommend taking a break from the reading to set these up right now.

Contact cards typically include:

  • Names and addresses
  • Emergency contact information (oftentimes a family member, partner or spouse, or close friend)
  • Allergies and any other medical conditions

We recommend considering additional information:

  • Bilingual or pictoral speech prompts similar to hospital communication boards
  • Neighbors’ contact information, who you can ask to check on your family or pets if you’re away
  • Local hospital, police, fire department, health care providers
  • Addresses of meeting points
  • Photos of family members, digital and/or printed (useful when searching for lost family members)

You’ll want this information easily accessible during an emergency, but it’s great to keep it on your person and accessible even during your day-to-day activities. Be creative with where you store contact cards:

  • One card in each of your emergency kits at home, at work, or in your car
  • Children’s backpacks
  • Wallet, purse, luggage, bicycle bag, and any other travel bags
  • On the refrigerator
  • Digitally in your cell phone

Step 3: Out-of-town Contacts

Your team should also include at least one out-of-town emergency contact. Local phone lines can often be jammed following a disaster, but long-distance calls usually still go through. If you can’t get in touch with your local team directly, having a reliable person in another city or state as the central point of contact for everyone in your team is a safe bet for making consistent contact.

Practice texting and calling. Have each person practice sending a text message or calling your out-of-town contact and sending a group text to your mobile phone group list.

Step 4: Meeting Points

Designate a few meeting locations. Your primary will be your home, but you’ll need backup locations in case your home is inaccessible or unsafe. The secondary meeting point should be local and the third meeting point should be more distant. Consider adding more options if you commute far from home, if you have young children in school, etc.

Practice getting all everyone in the home or building together at your indoor and neighborhood emergency meeting points, and talk through how each of you would get there. Does someone in your group have a disability or special circumstances? Talk through how you’ll make sure their needs are met.

Example of meetings points:

  • Home
  • A nearby park
  • Friend’s home at the edge of town
  • Relative’s home in the next city

Ensure these locations are safe and accessible to all members of your team, including individuals with differing abilities, children, pets, and other dependents.

Once you know the safety and whereabouts of all your team members after an emergency or disaster, head toward your emergency meeting location.

Step 5: Communication & Meeting Timeline

Finally, your plan should include a timeline for when, where, and how each team member should communicate after an emergency.

Make a simple plan for each family member call your central point of contact at established intervals to give updates. This way, the central point of contact can give each family member news and updates each time they call or text. Keep texting or calling until the family is reunited.

Example of contact timeline:

  • Dad: Call/text on the hour (1:00, 2:00, 3:00…)
  • Mom: Call/text at 15 past (1:15, 2:15, 3:15…)
  • Child: Call/text at 30 past (1:30, 2:30, 3:30…)

The best communication plans should factor in worst case scenarios. What if you can’t make contact or no one shows up to the meeting location?

Some of the protocols you must establish include:

  • How long should you wait at the primary meeting point for a family member before going to the secondary meeting point?
  • If changing locations, how will you communicate this (such as by informing the Central Contact person, or by writing notes on the wall)?
  • Transportation protocols – should each person move towards the meeting point on their own, or should certain family members wait to be picked up?
  • Familiarize yourself with the emergency procedures at your kids’ schools

Step 6: Communication Tools

The tools you choose will vary based on the size of your communication team, your location, and your communication plan. Here’s a list of the communication tools we think are most helpful in an emergency.

Cell Phones

Most of us will have cell phones on us, so make sure to have your team’s contact information readily accessible. Again, if you haven’t already, start a group text right now. Though, in the event of a major emergency, reception may be difficult or impossible to find for days or weeks, so you’ll need backup plans.

Text typically works best during an emergency, but it’s hard to know for certain. If you do make a phone call and manage to get through, keep it brief and get the most crucial information across quickly and efficiently.

Be careful using your phone battery - you’ll likely need to conserve it! Close any apps you aren’t using, reduce the brightness on your screen, and put it in airplane mode when you aren’t using it.

Internet

Social media and email are another fast way to send bulk messages to friends and family. Send one status report to everyone, instead of wasting precious network space to call each individually. Though, similar to cell phones, internet may not be available.

Landlines

If your cell phone and internet aren’t working, try a landline. Landlines generally work during a power outage because power is sent to the phones through the phone line from power companies. The power companies have battery and generator backup, which can support for well over a week during a power outage.

Landlines can also become congested from mass calling. However, landlines should still be part of your communication plan – especially when an out-of-state landline is used as your “Central Contact.”

Radios

Walkie-Talkies, CB radios, or HAM radios are an excellent choice to use in a large-scale disaster. With the likelihood of jammed signals and downed cell towers, radios are an analog solution that will keep your team connected.

Written Messages

When all else fails, use written messages. For instance, if you need to leave your home, you can leave a message on a window or wall.