Now that you’ve learned about what can happen and how your community is
prepared to respond to emergencies, prepare your family by creating a family
disaster plan. You can begin this process by gathering family members and
reviewing the information you obtained in the previous section (hazards, warning systems,
evacuation routes and community and other plans). Discuss with them what you
would do if family members are not home when a warning is issued. Additionally,
your family plan should address the following:
• Escape routes.
• Family communications.
• Utility shut-off and safety.
• Insurance and vital records.
• Special needs.
• Caring for animals.
• Safety Skills
Information on these family planning considerations are covered in the
Draw a floor plan of your home. Use a blank sheet of paper for each floor.
Mark two escape routes from each room. Make sure children understand the
drawings. Post a copy of the drawings at eye level in each child’s room. Where
to Meet Establish a place to meet in the event of an emergency, such as a fire.
Record the locations below:
||Where to Meet...
|Near the home
||For example, the next door neighbor's
|Outside the immediate area
||For example, the neighborhood grocery store
Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so plan how you will
contact one another. Think about how you will communicate in different
situations. Complete a contact card for each family member. Have family members
keep these cards handy in a wallet, purse, backpack, etc. You may want to send
one to school with each child to keep on fi le. Pick a friend or relative who
lives out-of-state for household members to notify they are safe. Below is a
sample contact card. A more detailed Family Communications Plan which should be
completed and posted so the contact information is readily accessible to all
family members. A copy should also be included in your family disaster supplies
Utility Shut-off and Safety
In the event of a disaster, you may be instructed to shut off the utility
service at your home. Below is some general guidance for shutting off utility
service: Modify the information provided to reflect your shut off requirements
as directed by your utility company.
Natural gas leaks and explosions are responsible for a significant number of
fires following disasters. It is vital that all household members know how to
shut off natural gas. Because there are different gas shut-off procedures for
different gas meter configurations, it is important to contact your local gas
company for guidance on preparation and response regarding gas appliances and
gas service to your home. When you learn the proper shut-off procedure for your
meter, share the information with everyone in your household. Be sure not to
actually turn off the gas when practicing the proper gas shut-off procedure. If
you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and get everyone
out quickly. Turn off the gas, using the outside main valve if you can, and call
the gas company from a neighbor’s home.
Water quickly becomes a precious resource following many disasters. It is
vital that all household members learn how to shut off the water at the main
• Cracked lines may pollute the water supply to your house. It is wise to
shut off your water until you hear from authorities that it is safe for
• The effects of gravity may drain the water in your hot water heater and
toilet tanks unless you trap it in your house by shutting off the main house
valve (not the street valve in the cement box at the curb—this valve is
extremely difficult to turn and requires a special tool).
Preparing to Shut Off Water
• Locate the shut-off valve for the water line that enters your house. It may
look like this:
• Make sure this valve can be completely shut off. Your valve may be rusted
open, or it may only partially close. Replace it if necessary.
• Label this valve with a tag for easy identification, and make sure all
household members know where it is located.
Electrical sparks have the potential of igniting natural gas if it is
leaking. It is wise to teach all responsible household members where and how to
shut off the electricity.
Preparing to Shut Off Electricity
• Locate your electricity circuit box.
• Teach all responsible household members how to shut off the electricity to
the entire house.
Insurance and Vital Records
Obtain property, health, and life insurance if you do not have them. Review
existing policies for the amount and extent of coverage to ensure that what you
have in place is what is required for you and your family for all possible
If you live in a flood-prone area, consider purchasing flood insurance to
reduce your risk of flood loss. Buying flood insurance to cover the value of a
building and its contents will not only provide greater peace of mind, but will
speed the recovery if a flood occurs. You can call 1(888)FLOOD29 to learn more
about flood insurance.
Make a record of your personal property, for insurance purposes. Take photos
or a video of the interior and exterior of your home. Include personal
belongings in your inventory. You may also want to download the free Household
and Personal Property Inventory Book from the University of Illinois at
www.ag.uiuc.edu/~vista/abstracts/ ahouseinv.html to help you record your
Store important documents such as insurance policies, deeds, property
records, and other important papers in a safe place, such as a safety deposit
box away from your home. Make copies of important documents for your disaster
supplies kit. (Information about the disaster supplies kit is covered later.)
Consider saving money in an emergency savings account that could be used in
any crisis. It is advisable to keep a small amount of cash or traveler’s checks
at home in a safe place where you can quickly access them in case of evacuation.
If you or someone close to you has a disability or a special need, you may
have to take additional steps to protect yourself and your family in an
||May need to make special arrangements to receive warnings.
||May need special assistance to get to a shelter.
|Single working parent
||May need help to plan for disasters and emergencies.
|Non-English speaking persons
||May need assistance planning for and responding to emergencies.
Community and cultural groups may be able to help keep people informed.
|People without vehicles
||May need to make arrangements for transportation.
|People with special dietary needs
||Should take special precautions to have an adequate emergency food
If you have special needs:
• Find out about special assistance that may be available in your community.
Register with the office of emergency services or the local fire department for
assistance so needed help can be provided.
• Create a network of neighbors, relatives, friends, and coworkers to aid you
in an emergency. Discuss your needs and make sure everyone knows how to operate
• Discuss your needs with your employer.
• If you are mobility impaired and live or work in a high-rise
building, have an escape chair.
• If you live in an apartment building, ask the management to mark accessible
exits clearly and to make arrangements to help you leave the building.
• Keep specialized items ready, including extra wheelchair batteries, oxygen,
catheters, medication, food for service animals, and any other items you
• Be sure to make provisions for medications that require refrigeration.
• Keep a list of the type and model numbers of the medical devices you
Caring for Animals
Animals also are affected by disasters. Use the guidelines below to prepare a
plan for caring for pets and large animals. Plan for pet disaster needs
• Identifying shelter.
• Gathering pet supplies.
• Ensuring your pet has proper ID and up-to-date veterinarian records.
• Providing a pet carrier and leash. Take the following steps to prepare to
shelter your pet:
• Call your local emergency management office, animal shelter, or animal
control office to get advice and information.
• Keep veterinary records to prove vaccinations are current.
• Find out which local hotels and motels allow pets and where pet boarding
facilities are located. Be sure to research some outside your local area in case
local facilities close.
• Know that, with the exception of service animals, pets are not typically
permitted in emergency shelters as they may affect the health and safety of
If you have large animals such as horses, cattle, sheep, goats, or pigs on
your property, be sure to prepare before a disaster. Use the following
1. Ensure all animals have some form of identification.
2. Evacuate animals whenever possible. Map out primary and secondary routes
3. Make available vehicles and trailers needed for transporting and
supporting each type of animal. Also make available experienced handlers and
drivers. Note: It is best to allow animals a chance to become accustomed to
vehicular travel so they are less frightened and easier to move.
4. Ensure destinations have food, water, veterinary care, and handling
5. If evacuation is not possible, animal owners must decide whether to move
large animals to shelter or turn them outside.
It is important that family members know how to administer first aid and CPR
and how to use a fire extinguisher. Take a first aid and CPR class. Local
American Red Cross chapters can provide information about this type of training.
Official certification by the American Red Cross provides, under the “good
Samaritan” law, protection for those giving first aid. Be sure everyone
knows how to use your fire extinguisher and where it is kept. You should have,
at a minimum, an ABC type.