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Building The Best Family Emergency Plan

Do you have a family emergency plan?

You probably don’t.

And if you do - it’s probably not fully thought out.

I don’t know about you but, my family is my top priority.

All of this planning and preparation is all to help protect me and my family.

So what goes into an emergency family plan? How do you make one?

Today, I’m going to break down exactly how to build a family emergency plan to allow you to be ready for anything.

What is a Family Emergency Plan

payphones for family emergency plan

Simply put, it’s exactly what the name says it is - a plan for your family in case of an emergency.

There are a few components needed that will make the most successful plan possible.

1. Write It Down

Obviously, this is a critical step of your family emergency plan.

Talking around the dinner table is one thing, but there is just too much here to remember, and if your phone runs out of batteries, then you are in real trouble.

I will share the parts of my plan below and how I use it, but make sure you don’t just read this - write it down.

Family Survival Guide Download

2. Share It

Ensure that everyone in your household and everyone involved in your plan has a paper copy of the family emergency plan.

If there is only one copy at home, it won’t serve you well when the time comes.

In my family, I keep a copy in my truck, my wife’s SUV, one in a folder in a drawer at home, each of the kids has one in their book-bag folder up in an envelope, and everyone else who is in the plan has a copy.

3. Practice It

Your plan may work right out of the box, but I bet it will need some minor tweaking after the first run through of your family emergency plan.

In my instance, practicing it on different days made a difference, and we needed to expand the plan based on where my wife and I were working that day.

Try it a few times for each category of emergency and then run it on different days.

What Should a Family Emergency Plan Include?

family emergency plan backpacking kit

  • Contact information for everyone in the plan including cell and landlines.
    • Remember your plan should include attempting a call, then communication should be kept to text to reduce battery usage and keep lined open for others.
  • The location of the nearest payphones to where I am, my family is, and along my path
  • Who and how you will get the kids
    • Plan by day of the week
    • Landline phone numbers to each of their schools or after-school care
    • If you can’t get to them, who will and how will you notify them and they notify you?
    • If they are released from school, a plan for older children to get home or a secondary location if your home is not safe.
  • In-home Family Emergency Plan for where to go when there are Fires, Earthquakes, or Tornadoes
  • Get-Home Family Emergency Plan for who you will call if cell service is down
  • Out of Neighborhood plan including their address, phone number, and alternate routes from home, school, and work.
  • Out of Town Contact including their address, phone number, and alternate routes from home, school, and work.

What Should Go Into An “Emergency Go-Kit”

map for family emergency plan

In addition to having your family emergency plan, you’re going to need to bring personal documents needed to restore your life back to normal.

Here are a few things that you should have written down in a safe ready to go:

  • Store important documents in a fire and waterproof container. This is ideally a portable safe.
  • Insurance papers
  • Medical records
  • Bank account numbers
  • Social Security cards
  • Deeds or mortgages
  • Birth and marriage certificates
  • Stocks and bonds
  • Recent tax returns
  • Wills

If you're looking for the easiest way to start your family emergency plan kit, check out our Family Survival Kit

family emergency plan

This kit is perfect for any short-term disruptions like blizzards, floods or any other unforeseen emergencies. 

In this kit, you'll get 7 bags of our best entree options which equals 35 total servings that will work for the whole family.

With a 25-year shelf life, this food will last a long time and will give you and your family a jumpstart on your family emergency plans.

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The 4 Types of Family Emergency Plans

1. Getting to Your Home Family Emergency Plan

family emergency plan getting back home

So you guessed it, we always try to meet at home.

Why wouldn’t you?

That is where we are all set to shelter in place when we can.

However, as you will see in the section below on what goes into a plan, getting home can be challenging.

My wife and I work about an hour from our house.

My kids are at three different schools in our district.

If cell phones are down, we need to plan to get the kids and get home. In my plan, we have all the phone numbers of all the schools.

We will call via landline our central contact (part of the plan and not in Ohio) to check in when my wife or I leave to get the kids.

We communicate through this third party when we leave and when we arrive at places.

Our kids have the central contact phone number as well and will call them to check-in and stay at the school until picked up.

We have multiple routes to the kids and home that reduce the opportunity for bridges to be out and heavy traffic.

This is key as our maps on our phones may not work.

2. Emergencies in Your Home Family Emergency Plan

compass in mountain range

Getting home is the key part of the plan, but sometimes disaster strikes when you are already there.

It might sound weird to have a plan for communicating when you are all already at home, but there are things that happen so fast that you need to know what to do and that you are all safe.

We call this our “Stick-together” family emergency plan and there are really three versions of it.

1. Fire

When I was a kid, my house caught on fire and it took months to try to get our lives back to normal.

Luckily for me, no one was home at the time, but our family was split into two places and when my neighbor came running down the trail I was working on at the time in a local national forest, I had no idea if they were safe until we arrived back at the house.

For me house fires are a very real thing and making sure that everyone is safe is an instant priority.

For my family, if there is a fire we have a specific neighbor that we will meet at so that we can take a headcount and know we are all safe.

What can happen if you don’t do this is that if in the middle of the night you hear a fire alarm, and you can’t get to another part of the house to grab everyone and get them out,

My kids may need to climb down an emergency ladder from the second floor and now they are on a different side of the house than me.

If we are headed to the safe zone we are now all headed in the same direction and still close enough to respond if we find someone is missing.

2. Tornado

I have been through three deadliest tornado in us history in my life and each has been a very different experience.

We have a specific meet-up point in our family emergency plan in our house and they know that when they hear the sirens, to head to a specific portion of our basement where our tornado recovery kit lives.

You can make a major mistake if you are running upstairs to find a child who is already downstairs.

You need to ALL move to the designated location and then respond from there. Be aware of tornado alerts which are very useful whenever a tornado is in your location.

3. Earthquake

It was Tuesday just after lunch on a hot day in August in Washington, DC.

I was there on business and was drawing at a whiteboard in a building on Embassy Row.

Just then the room began to shake and at first we had no idea what was happening.

In the next few moments, we felt the jolt of the 5.3 magnitude quake.

My wife was back at home and caught word on the radio of buildings collapsing in the District.

After a few tries on the cell phone, I was finally able to get through word back to her.

At that time I did not have a good lay of the land to know where to get to a land-line and reentering buildings before they had been structurally cleared was not a great idea.

We were able to make it out of the building safely, but I learned one thing that day and that was that you just can’t tell when these things are going to hit, and you definitely need to act quickly.

At my home in Ohio, we don’t have a lot of earthquakes, but the family knows what to do during an earthquake which is to leave the building if you are at an exit and if you are not, then brace in the most structured part of the house near you which for us is the steel beam that runs the length of the basement or load-bearing doorways that sit on it.

If you are on another floor and not by an exit, then brace in a door jam which by code are reinforced.

When the earthquake stops, we then meet at the same location as if there was a fire.

3. Meeting out of the Neighborhood Family Emergency Plan

meeting out of town family emergency plan

I am going to cover two types of emergencies where you can’t be near your home but your family still needs to be together.

1. Blackout

It was a Thursday afternoon in August 2003 just after 4pm when a small software bug in an alarm system in Akron, OH failed to alert and redistribute power to the grid causing a cascading effect of outages that equated to the largest blackout in US history.

This happened just before the afternoon rush hour and panic ensued.

Cell phone towers were overwhelmed and people could not reach their loved ones.

My wife was trapped on the highway and finally was able to take an unfamiliar exit.

When she was finally able to get through to me, it was about 2 hours after the blackout started and she was lost and panicked.

This was 2003 and your blackberry couldn't get a map digital signal.

I luckily (not really luck, this was planning) had a paper map in my car at the time and the line held on so that I could guide her to a familiar area.

The power stayed out for days and infrastructure was starting to break down.

Water was no longer good to drink without boiling and it was now time to throw away everything in the fridge. We needed to leave our house.

At that time I didn’t have a plan, but now I do.

We have an out of neighborhood plan for when we need to leave and we go to my in-laws a few cities away.

If they don’t have power then we make a decision about our out of town plan and when to move to that.

2. Winter Storm

It was that last Tuesday morning of January in Atlanta 2014 when the National Weather Service issues a winter storm warning.

It had been predicting this since Sunday night but school and offices were still open that morning.

By 1 pm schools had begun to dismiss students and parents then started the journey through the blizzard to get home.

By 5 pm we were in a state of Emergency.

Cars were running out of gas on a log-jam of a highway and your kids are now home alone and concerned.

Power starts to go out as tree limbs break and temperatures now fluctuate well below freezing.

This is where having a secondary plan for getting your children and taking them away from the impacted area kicks in.

It was 14 hours for my cousin to get home that night and as we spoke on the phone he described school busses trapped on the interstate.

Luckily it was his wife’s day off and they were both safe, but if had happened on a Wednesday and not a Tuesday it could have all been different.

When storms hit that prevent you from getting home, having a secondary plan of where to meet is imperative.

When those corresponding power outages and cold temperatures send you away from your home, you need to know where to go and it should not be a surprise to your host.

You should both be prepared.

3. Floods

My house is surrounded by smaller creeks that supply the major river in town.

Additionally, some of the river crossings near me are fords which is a type of bridge that is meant for the water to run over it during surges and which are shut down with large rains.

Not only do we know the best route to get to our home when waters are rising, but more importantly we know how to get out and where to go.

You need to have a flood communication plan for trying to get home and for when you can’t as part of flood preparedness.

Similar to the other out of Neighborhood plans, the other party that will host you here should be knowledgeable of the plan and can act as a hub for family communication.

4. Getting Out of Town Family Emergency Plan

getting out of town emergency family plan

1. Hurricane

So this is the number one most costly natural disaster for the United States any year.

The good news is you probably have a little bit of warning.

We covered in other articles how to decide when to go and what to bring.

This is really about where and how you stay in touch.

If there are multiple families in your Disaster Communication Plan, you may all choose to leave together, but if you don’t or some family has decided to shelter in place, you will need to have this plan in place.

The location that you are bugging out to should be preplanned like the others except this one is likely out of state.

The way to get there can be riddled with traffic and sold out gas stations so be prepared for that.

If cell service is knocked out during a storm, use landlines to reach out to each other at the destination home.

2. Wildfire

If you have caught on by now, the plan here is really the same for us for Hurricane and Wildfire.

3. Nuclear Power Plant

This one is a little touchy, but since I live too close to some of America’s great clean energy sources, I have to add this to my plan.

The idea is the same as the other two in this category, but the immediacy is a little greater. But the plan is still solid: We are taking an impromptu family vacation.

Conclusion - Family Emergency Plan 101

Emergencies happen and being prepared is the best way to ensure the safety of you and your family.

By creating a family emergency plan as I have laid out, you will have peace of mind when things go wrong.

Need to review? Click any of the links below to jump to a section of the blog now! 

Now that you’ve got your family emergency plan - you’re going to need emergency food set up and ready to go.

The best way to start is with our Family Emergency Kit.

These are great options for on the go snacks to sustain yourself and your family when you don’t have access to a stove.