Developing a Family Disaster Plan

You should plan in advance what you will do in an emergency. Be prepared to assess the situation, use common sense and whatever you have on hand to take care of yourself and your loved ones. Think about the places where your family spends time: school, work and other places you frequent. Ask about their emergency plans. Find out how they will communicate with families during an emergency. If they do not have an emergency plan, consider helping develop one.

Develop a Family Communications Plan

Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so plan how you will contact one another and review what you will do in different situations. Consider a plan where each family member calls or emails the same friend or relative in the event of an emergency. It may be easier to call across town, so an out-of-town contact may be in a better position to communicate among separated family members. Be sure each person knows the phone number and has coins or a prepaid phone card to call the emergency contact. You may have trouble getting through, or the phone system may be down altogether, but be patient.

Deciding to Stay or Go

Depending on your circumstances and the nature of the emergency, the first important decision is whether you stay put or get away. You should understand and plan for both possibilities. Use common sense and available information, including what you are learning here, to determine if there is immediate danger. In any emergency, information may not always be immediately available for local or other sources. When possible, you should watch television, listen to the radio or check the Internet often for information or official instructions. If you’re specifically told to evacuate or seek medical treatment, do so immediately.

Staying Put & Shelter-In-Place

Whether you are at home, work or elsewhere, there may be situations when it’s simply best to stay where you are and avoid any uncertainty outside. In fact, there are some circumstances where staying put and creating a barrier between yourself and potentially contaminated air outside, a process known as sheltering-in-place and sealing the room, is a matter of survival. Plan in advance where you will take shelter in this kind of an emergency. Choose and interior room or one with as few windows and doors as possible. Consider pre-cutting plastic sheeting to seal windows, doors and air vents. Each piece should be several inches larger than the space you want to cover so that it lies flat against the wall. Label each piece with the location of where it fits. 

Use available information to assess the situation. If you see large amounts of debris in the air, or if authorities say the air is badly contaminated, you may want to shelter-in-place and seal the room. Quickly bring your family and pets inside, lock doors and close windows, air vents and fireplace dampers. Turn off air conditioning, forced air heating systems, exhaust fans and clothes dryers. Take your emergency supplies and go into the room you have designated. Seal all windows, doors and vents with plastic sheeting and duct tape or anything else you have on hand. Listen to the TV, the radio and check the Internet for instructions.

Getting Away

There may be conditions under which you will decide to get away, or there may be situations when you are ordered to leave. Plan in advance how you will assemble your family and anticipate where you will go. Choose several destinations in different directions so you have options in an emergency. If you have a car, keep at least a half tank of gas in it at all times. Become familiar with alternate routes as well as other means of transportation out of your area. 

If you do not have a car, plan how you will leave if you have to. Take your emergency supply kit, unless you have reason to believe it has been contaminated, and lock the door behind you. Take pets with you if you are told to evacuate; however, if you are going to a public shelter, keep in mind that pets may not be allowed inside. If you believe the air to be contaminated, drive with your windows and vents closed and keep the air conditioner and heater turned off.