How to Make a Family Disaster Plan

Having a plan, and communicating it with your family, makes a difference when disaster strikes.

A family gathers around the table.
Make sure everyone in your family understands your household emergency plan.
skynesher / iStock

While it’s impossible to predict exactly when a disaster may strike, taking time to plan ahead can help your family prepare for the unexpected and ensure their safety at home or in the car. What should your disaster plan include? Here’s a list to help you create a system that keeps your family connected and safe.

Prepare emergency kits.

Emergency kits for homes and autos should include a three-day supply of water and nonperishable food for each person. Include a flashlight, hand-crank or battery-powered radio, batteries, extra cash, cell phone with extra battery and charger, first-aid supplies, critical medications, and basic personal hygiene products. For your car kit, include local maps, blankets, shoes, flares, and a basic toolkit.

Practice first aid.

Learning CPR and emergency first aid can save the life of a family member or friend.

Reroute your commute.

Consider how different types of natural disasters might affect your commute, and plan alternative routes or forms of transportation to get home. Keep a list of bus, ferry, and train routes.

Map it.

Map out several evacuation routes from your home and neighborhood.

Be school smart.

If you have young children and can’t retrieve them from school, be aware of school emergency procedures and understand what authorization is required for them to be released to someone other than you.

Meet up.

Consider where family members might be during a disaster, how they will get to a safe place, and how you will communicate with each other. Agree upon on a predetermined meeting place in case you and your family members are unable to return home and communications systems are down.

Small first aid kit.

Keep an emergency kit in your car and in your home.

Pixel-Shot / Shutterstock

Make contacts.

Program out-of-state emergency contact numbers into all cell phones, and include this information on luggage tags.

Plan for pets.

Make pets a part of your plan by creating a pet emergency kit including pet food, toys, and a leash. If you are unable to evacuate with your pet, a pet rescue sticker affixed to a front window can alert rescuers that your pet may be trapped inside. Identify pet-friendly accommodations since pets are not always allowed in emergency shelters. Also microchip your pets, so they can be easily identified if you’re separated.

Assign tasks.

Create a chart of important emergency-related tasks—notifying family members, managing supplies, handling pets, monitoring emergency broadcasts, etc.—and assign each one to a household member.

Take cover.

If there is no time to evacuate, you may need to shelter in place, so it’s important to identify these locations ahead of time. Depending upon the disaster, this could be a storm cellar or basement, a lower room without windows, or even under a large, strong table.

Make an inventory.

Document your possessions on paper or with a video camera or smartphone. Note the replacement costs of your most valuable items, then talk to your insurance agent or insurance customer service provider to be sure you have the right coverage.

Review your plan.

Review your emergency plan every six months. Store a copy of your plan as a paper file, and keep a copy on your family’s computers and smartphones. It’s a good idea to store a backup online so you can access it from any internet connected device.

Check your coverage.

Find out if your insurance policy covers the types of disaster-related damages that could impact your neighborhood. Standard home insurance policies do not provide coverage for earthquake and flood; you may want to inquire about additional coverage.