Read the Disclaimer!
Why talk about a Family Disaster Plan?
- Disaster can strike quickly and without warning.
It can force you
to evacuate your neighborhood or confine you to your home. What would
do if basic services, such as water, gas, electricity, or telephones
cut off? Local officials and relief workers will be on the scene after
a disaster, but they cannot reach everyone right away.
- Families can and do cope with disaster by
preparing in advance and
working together as a team. Knowing what to do is your best protection
and your responsibility. Learn more about Family Disaster Plans by
your local emergency management office or your local
American Red Cross chapter.
- A National Weather Service (NWS) WATCH
is a message indicating that
conditions favor the occurrence of a certain type of hazardous weather.
For example, a severe thunderstorm watch means that a severe
is expected in the next six hours or so within an area approximately
to 150 miles wide and 300 to 400 miles long (36,000 to 60,000 square
The NWS Storm Prediction Center issues such watches. Local NWS forecast
offices issue other watches (flash flood, winter weather, etc.) 12 to
hours in advance of a possible hazardous-weather or flooding event.
local forecast office usually covers a state or a portion of a state.
- An NWS WARNING indicates that a
hazardous event is occurring or
is imminent in about 30 minutes to an hour. Local NWS forecast offices
issue warnings on a county-by-county basis.
Four Steps to Safety
Complete four steps to safety. There are four basic
to developing a family disaster plan:
1. Find out what could happen to you. By
learning what your risks
may be, you can prepare for the disaster most likely to occur in your
Learn more by contacting your local emergency management office or
Red Cross chapter. Be prepared to take notes. Ask the following:
2. Create a Family Disaster Plan. Once you know what
possible in your area, talk about how to prepare and how to respond if
one occurs. Make checklists of steps you can take as you discuss this
with your family.
What type of disasters are
most likely to happen in your community?
Identify which human-caused or technological disasters can affect your
region, too. Remember to consider major chemical emergencies that can
anywhere chemical substances are stored, manufactured, or transported.
How should you prepare for each?
Does your community have a public warning
system? What do your community’s
warning signals sound like and what should you do when you hear them?
What about animal care after disaster?
Pets (other than service
animals) are not permitted in places where food is served, according to
many local health department regulations. Plan where you would take
pets if you had to go to a public shelter where they are not permitted.
If you care for elderly or disabled persons,
how can you help them?
What might be some special needs to consider?
What are the disaster plans at your workplace,
your children’s school
or day care center, and other places where members of your family spend
time? You should be prepared wherever you may be when
and learn steps you can take to prevent or avoid disasters.
Here is how to create your Family Disaster Plan:
3. Complete your checklists. Take the steps outlined
in the checklists
you made when you created your Family Disaster Plan. Remember to
the following items on your checklists.
Meet with your family and
discuss why you need to prepare for disaster.
Explain the dangers of fire, severe weather, and earthquakes to
Plan to share responsibilities and work together as a team. Keep it
enough so people can remember the important details. A disaster is an
stressful situation that can create confusion. The best emergency plans
are those with very few details.
Discuss the types of disasters that are most
likely to happen. Explain
what to do in each case. Everyone should know what to do in
family members are not together. Discussing disasters ahead of time
help reduce fear and anxiety and will help everyone know how to respond.
Pick two places to meet:
Right outside of your home in case of
a sudden emergency, like a fire.
Outside of your neighborhood in case you
can’t return home or are asked
to leave your neighborhood. Everyone must know the address and phone
of the meeting locations.
Develop an emergency communication plan.
In case family members
are separated from one another during floods or other disasters, have a
plan for getting back together. Separation is a real possibility during
the day when adults are at work and children are at school.
Ask an out-of-town relative or friend to be
your "family contact."
Your contact should live outside of your area. After a disaster, it is
often easier to make a long distance call than a local call. Family
should call the contact and tell him or her where they are. Everyone
know the contact’s name, address, and phone number.
Discuss what to do if authorities ask you to
evacuate. Make arrangements
for a place to stay with a friend or relative who lives out of town
learn about shelter locations.
Be familiar with escape routes.
Depending on the type of disaster,
it may be necessary to evacuate your home. Plan several escape routes
case certain roads are blocked or closed. Remember to follow the advice
local officials during evacuation situations. They will direct you to
safest route; some roads may be blocked or put you in further danger.
Plan how to take care of your pets.
Pets (other than service animals)
are not permitted to be in places where food is served, according to
local health department regulations. Plan where you would take your
if you had to go to a public shelter where they are not permitted.
4. Practice and maintain your plan. Practicing your
plan will help
you instinctively make the appropriate response during an actual
You will need to review your plan periodically and you may need to
Post by phones emergency
telephone numbers (fire, police, ambulance,
etc.). You may not have time in an emergency to look up
Teach all responsible family members how and
when to turn off the water,
gas, and electricity at the main switches or valves. Keep
tools near gas and water shut-off valves. Turn off utilities only if
suspect a leak or damaged lines, or if you are instructed to do so by
If you turn the gas off, you will need a professional to turn it back
Paint shut-off valves with white or fluorescent paint to increase
Attach a shut-off valve wrench or other special tool in a conspicuous
close to the gas and water shut-off valves.
Check if you have adequate insurance coverage.
Ask your insurance
agent to review your current policies to ensure that they will cover
home and belongings adequately. Homeowner’s insurance does
not cover flood
losses. If you are a renter, your landlord’s insurance does
your personal property; it only protects the building.
pays if a renter’s property is damaged or stolen.
Renters’ insurance costs
less than $15 a month in most areas of the country. Contact your
agent for more information.
Install smoke alarms on each level of your
home, especially near bedrooms.
Smoke alarms cut nearly in half your chances of dying in a home fire.
alarms sense abnormal amounts of smoke or invisible combustion gases in
the air. They can detect both smoldering and flaming fires. Many areas
are now requiring hard-wired smoke alarms in new homes.
Get training from the fire department on how
to use your fire extinguisher
(A-B-C type), and show family members where extinguishers are kept.
Different extinguishers operate in different ways. Unless responsible
members know how to use your particular model, they may not be able to
use it effectively. There is no time to read directions during an
Only adults should handle and use extinguishers.
Conduct a home hazard hunt. During a
disaster, ordinary objects
in your home can cause injury or damage. Anything that can move, fall,
break, or cause a fire is a home hazard. For example, during an
or a tornado, a hot water heater or a bookshelf could turn over or
hanging over a couch could fall and hurt someone. Look for electrical,
chemical, and fire hazards. Contact your local fire department to learn
about home fire hazards. Inspect your home at least once a year and fix
Stock emergency supplies and assemble a
Disaster Supplies Kit. (See
the "Disaster Supplies Kit"
section.) Keep enough
supplies in your home to meet your needs for at least three days.
a Disaster Supplies Kit with items you may need in case of an
Store these supplies in sturdy, clearly labeled, easy-to-carry
such as backpacks or duffel bags.
Keep a smaller Disaster Supplies Kit in the
trunk of your car. (See
the "Disaster Supplies Kit"
section.) If you become
stranded or are not able to return home, having these items will help
to be more comfortable.
Keep a portable, battery-operated radio or
television and extra batteries.
Maintaining a communications link with the outside is a step that can
the difference between life and death. Make sure that all family
know where the portable, battery-operated radio or television is
and always keep a supply of extra batteries.
Consider using a NOAA Weather
Radio with a tone-alert feature. NOAA Weather Radio
is the best
means to receive warnings from the National Weather Service. The
National Weather Service continuously broadcasts updated
and forecasts that can be received by NOAA Weather Radios, which are
in many stores. NOAA Weather Radio now broadcasts warning and
information for all types of hazards both natural (such as weather and
flooding, as well as earthquakes and volcanic activity) and
(such as chemical releases or oil spills). Working with other federal
and the Federal
new Emergency Alert System, NOAA
Weather Radio is an "all hazards" radio network, making it
source for the most comprehensive weather and emergency information
to the public. Your National Weather Service recommends purchasing a
Weather Radio that has both a battery backup and a Specific Area
Encoder (SAME) feature, which automatically alerts you when a watch or
warning is issued for your county, giving you immediate information
a life-threatening situation. The average range is 40 miles, depending
on topography. The NOAA Weather Radio signal is a line-of-sight signal,
which does not bore through hills or mountains.
Take a Red Cross first aid and CPR class.
Have your family learn
basic safety measures, such as CPR and first aid. These are critical
and learning can be a fun activity for older children.
Plan home escape routes. Determine
the best escape routes from your
home in preparation for a fire or other emergency that would require
to leave the house quickly. Find two ways out of each room.
Find the safe places in your home for each
type of disaster. Different
disasters often require different types of safe places. While basements
are appropriate for tornadoes, they could be deadly in a major chemical
Make two photocopies of vital documents and
keep the originals in a
safe deposit box. Keep one copy in a safe place in the house, and give
the second copy to an out-of-town friend or relative. Vital
such as birth and marriage certificates, tax records, credit card
financial records, and wills and trusts can be lost during disasters.
Make a complete inventory of your home,
garage, and surrounding property.
The inventory can be either written or videotaped. Include information
such as serial numbers, make and model numbers, physical descriptions,
and price of purchases (receipts, if possible). This list could help
prove the value of what you owned if your possessions are damaged or
and can help you to claim deductions on taxes. Be sure to include
items such as sofas, chairs, tables, beds, chests, wall units, and any
other furniture too heavy to move. Do this for all items in your home,
on all levels. Then store a copy of the record somewhere away from
such as in a safe deposit box.
Quiz your kids every six
months so they remember what to do, meeting
places, phone numbers, and safety rules.
Conduct fire and emergency evacuation drills
at least twice a year.
Actually drive evacuation routes so each driver will know the way.
alternate routes in case the main evacuation route is blocked during an
actual disaster. Mark your evacuation routes on a map; keep the map in
your Disaster Supplies Kit.
Remember to follow the
advice of local officials during evacuation situations. They will
you to the safest route, away from roads that may be blocked or put you
in further danger.
Replace stored food and water every six months.
Replacing your food
and water supplies will help ensure freshness.
Use the test button to test your smoke alarms
once a month. The
test feature tests all electronic functions and is safer than testing
a controlled fire (matches, lighters, or cigarettes). If necessary,
batteries immediately. Make sure children know what your smoke alarm
If you have battery-powered smoke alarms,
replace batteries at least
once a year. Some agencies recommend you replace batteries
time changes from standard daylight savings each spring and again in
fall. "Change your clock, change your batteries," is a positive theme
has become a common phrase. While replacing batteries this often
will not hurt, available data show that batteries will last at least a
year, so more frequent replacement is not necessary, and time does not
change in Arizona, Hawaii, the eastern portion of Indiana, Puerto Rico,
American Samoa, and Guam.
Replace your smoke alarms every 10 years.
Smoke alarms become less
sensitive over time. Replacing them every 10 years is a joint
by the National Fire
and the U.S. Consumer
Products Safety Commission.
Look at your fire extinguisher to ensure it is
Fire extinguishers will not work properly if they are not properly
Use the gauge or test button to check proper pressure. Follow
instructions for replacement or recharging fire extinguishers. If the
is low on pressure, damaged, or corroded, replace it or have it
What to Tell Children
- Tell children that a disaster is something
that happens that could hurt
people, cause damage, or cut off utilities such as water, telephones,
electricity. Explain to them that nature sometimes provides
of a good thing"--fire, rain, wind, snow. Talk about typical effects
children can relate to, such as loss of electricity, water, and
- Give examples of several disasters that could
happen in your community.
Help children recognize the warning signs for the disasters that could
happen in your community. Discussing disaster ahead of time
fear and anxiety and lets everyone know how to respond.
- Teach children how and when to call for help.
Check the telephone
directory for local emergency telephone numbers. If you live in a 9-1-1
service area, teach children to call 9-1-1. At home, post emergency
numbers by all phones and explain when to call each number. Even very
children can be taught how and when to call for emergency assistance.
a child can’t read, make an emergency telephone number chart
that may help the child identify the correct number to call.
- Explain that when people know what to do and
practice in advance, everyone
is better able to handle emergencies. That’s why
you need to create
a Family Disaster Plan.
- Have older children take a first aid and CPR
course. These are critical
skills, and learning can be a fun activity.
- Tell children that in a disaster there are
many people who can help
them. Talk about ways that an emergency manager, Red Cross
police officer, firefighter, teacher, neighbor, doctor, or utility
might help following a disaster.
- Teach children to call your family contact in
case they are separated
from the family in an emergency. Help them memorize the
or write it down on a card that they can keep with them.
Remember Your Pets
- Plan how to take care of your pets.
If you must evacuate, it is
best to take your pets with you. However, pets (other than service
are not permitted in public shelters, according to many local health
regulations and because of other considerations.
- Contact hotels and motels outside of your
immediate area to check their
policies on accepting pets and restrictions on the number, size, and
Ask if "no pet" policies could be waived in an emergency.
- Ask friends, relatives, or others outside of
the affected area whether
they could shelter your animals. If you have more than one
may be more comfortable if kept together, but be prepared to house them
- Prepare a list of boarding facilities and
veterinarians who could shelter
animals in an emergency; include 24-hour phone numbers. Ask
shelters if they provide emergency shelter or foster care for pets in a
disaster. Animal shelters may be overburdened, so this should be your
- Keep a list of "pet friendly" places,
including their phone numbers,
with other disaster information and supplies. If you have
an impending disaster, call ahead for reservations.
- Carry pets in a sturdy carrier.
Animals may feel threatened by some
disasters and become frightened or try to run.
- Have identification, collar, leash, and proof
of vaccinations for all
pets. Veterinarian records may be required by some locations
they will allow you to board your pets. If your pet is lost,
will help officials return it to you.
- Assemble a portable pet disaster supplies kit.
Keep food, water,
and any special pet needs in an easy-to-carry container.
- Have a current photo of your pets in case they
- As a last resort, if you absolutely must leave
your pets behind, prepare
an emergency pen in the home that includes a three-day supply of dry
and a large container of fresh water.
Media and Community Education Ideas
- Meet with your neighbors to plan how
the neighborhood could work
together after a disaster until help arrives. Working with neighbors
save lives and property. If you’re a member of a neighborhood
such as a homeowner’s association or crime watch group,
preparedness as a new activity. Check with your local fire department
find out if they offer Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)
- Know your neighbors’ special skills
(for example, medical, technical)
and consider how you could help neighbors who have special needs, such
as disabled and elderly persons.
- Identify elderly and disabled people in the
neighborhood. Ask them
how you can help if a disaster threatens (transportation, securing the
home, getting medications, etc.).
- Make plans for child care in case
parents can’t get home.
If you’re sure you have time and if local officials
an immediate evacuation, but there’s a chance the weather may
or flooding may happen, take steps to protect your home and belongings:
- Evacuate immediately if told to do so.
Authorities do not ask people
to leave unless they truly feel lives may be in danger. Follow their
- Listen to local radio or television and follow
the instructions of local
emergency officials. Local officials will provide you with
appropriate advice for your particular situation.
- Wear protective clothing and sturdy shoes.
Disaster areas and debris
contain many hazards. The most common injury following disasters is cut
- Lock your home. Others may evacuate
after you or before you return.
Secure your house as you normally would when leaving for extended
- Use travel routes specified by local
authorities. Don’t use shortcuts
because certain areas may be impassable or dangerous.
- If you have only moments before leaving, grab
the following items
- First aid kit, including prescription medications,
dentures, extra eyeglasses,
and hearing aid batteries.
- Disaster Supplies Kit basics and Evacuation Supplies
Kit. (See "
Disaster Supplies Kit" section for detailed information.)
- A change of clothes and a sleeping bag or bedroll and
pillow for each household
- Car keys and keys to the place you may be going
(friend’s or relative’s
- Bring all pets into the house and confine them
to one room, if you can.
If necessary, make arrangements for your pets. Pets may try
if they feel threatened. Keeping them inside and in one room will allow
you to find them quickly if you need to leave.
- Put your Disaster Supplies Kit basics and
Evacuation Supplies Kit in
your vehicle, or by the door if you may be leaving on foot.
disaster situations, such as tsunami, it is better to leave by foot.
- Notify your family contact where you are going
and when you expect to
get there. Relatives and friends will be concerned about your
Letting someone know your travel plans will help relieve the fear and
of those who care.
- Bring things indoors. Lawn
furniture, trash cans, children’s toys,
garden equipment, clotheslines, hanging plants, and any other objects
may be blown around or swept away should be brought indoors.
- Look for potential hazards. Look for
coconuts, unripened fruit,
and other objects in trees around your property that could blow or
off and fly around in strong winds. Cut them off and store them indoors
until the storm is over. If you have not already cut away dead or
branches or limbs from trees and shrubs, leave them alone. Local
collection services will not have time before the storm to pick
- Turn off electricity at the main fuse or
breaker, and turn off water
at the main valve. Unless local officials advise otherwise,
gas on because you will need it for heating and cooking when you return
home. If you turn gas off, a licensed professional is required to turn
it back on, and it may take weeks for a professional to respond.
- Turn off propane gas service.
Propane tanks often become damaged
or dislodged in disasters.
- If strong winds are expected, cover the
outside of all the windows of
your home. Use shutters that are rated to provide significant
from windblown debris, or pre-fit plywood coverings over all windows.
- If flooding is expected, consider using sand
bags to keep water away
from your home. It takes two people about one hour to fill
100 sandbags, giving you a wall one foot high and 20 feet long. Make
you have enough sand, burlap, or plastic bags, shovels, strong helpers,
and time to place them properly.
After a Disaster
- Remain calm and patient. Staying
calm and rational will help you
move safely and avoid delays or accidents caused by irrational
Many people will be trying to accomplish the same things you are for
family’s safety. Patience will help everyone get through a
- Put your plan into action. Having
specific steps to take will keep
you working toward your family’s safety.
- Listen to local radio or television for news
and instructions. Local
authorities will provide the most appropriate advice for your
- Check for injuries. Give first aid and get
help for seriously injured
people. Taking care of yourself first will allow you to help
safely until emergency responders arrive.
- Help your neighbors who may require special
people, and people with disabilities--and the people who care
or for large families who may need additional help in an emergency
- Wear protective clothing and sturdy shoes.
Disaster areas and debris
contain many hazards. The most common injury following disasters is cut
- Check for damage in your home.
Disasters can cause extensive damage,
sometimes in places you least expect. Look carefully for any potential
- Use battery-powered lanterns or flashlights
when examining buildings.
Battery-powered lighting is the safest and easiest and does not present
a fire hazard for the user, occupants, or building.
- Avoid using candles. Candles can
easily cause fires. They are quiet
and easily forgotten. They can tip over during earthquake aftershocks
in a gust of wind. Candles invite fire play by children. More than
times as many people have died in residential fires caused by using
after a disaster than from the direct impact of the disaster itself.
- Look for fire hazards. There may
be broken or leaking gas lines,
flooded electrical circuits, or submerged furnaces or electrical
Fire is the most frequent hazard following floods.
- Check for gas leaks. Sniff for gas
leaks, starting at the water
heater. If you smell gas or suspect a leak, open a window and get
outside quickly. Turn off the gas at the outside main valve if you can
and call the gas company from a neighbor’s home. If you turn
off the gas
for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional.
- Look for electrical system damage.
If you see sparks or broken or
frayed wires, or if you smell burning insulation, turn off the
at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water
get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for
Electrical equipment should be checked and dried before being returned
- Check for sewage and water lines damage.
If you suspect sewage lines
are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes
are damaged, contact the water company and avoid using water from the
You can obtain safe water from undamaged water heaters or by melting
- Clean up spills immediately. This
includes medicines, bleach, gasoline,
and other flammable liquids.
- Watch for loose plaster and ceilings that
- Take pictures of the damage, both of the
building and its contents,
for insurance claims.
- Confine or secure your pets. They
may be frightened and try to run.
- Let your family contact know you have returned
home and then do not
use the telephone again unless it is a life-threatening emergency.
Telephone lines are frequently overwhelmed in disaster situations. They
need to be clear for emergency calls to get through.
- Make sure you have an adequate water supply in
case service is cut off.
Water is often contaminated after major disasters. An undamaged water
may be your best source of drinking water.
- Stay away from downed power lines and report
them immediately. Getting
damaged utilities turned off will prevent further injury or damage. If
possible, set out a flare and stay on the scene to warn others until
For People with Disabilities
Persons with disabilities, or those who
may have mobility problems (such
as elderly persons), should prepare as anyone else. In addition, they
want to consider some of the following steps:
- Create a network of relatives, friends, or
co-workers to assist in an
emergency. If you think you may need assistance in a
your disability with relatives, friends, or co-workers and ask for
help. For example, if you need help moving or require special
to receive emergency messages, make a plan with friends. Make sure they
know where you keep your disaster supplies. Give a key to a neighbor or
friend who may be able to assist you in a disaster.
- Maintain a list of important items and store
it with your emergency
supplies. Give a copy to another family member and a friend
Important items might include:
- Special equipment and supplies, for example, hearing
- Current prescription names and dosages.
- Names, addresses, and telephone numbers of doctors and
- Detailed information about the specifications of your
- Contact your local emergency management office
now. Many local emergency
management offices maintain registers of people with disabilities and
needs so they can be located and assisted quickly in a disaster.
- Wear medical alert tags or bracelets to
identify your disability in
case of an emergency. These may save your life if you are in
medical attention and unable to communicate.
- Know the location and availability of more
than one facility if you
are dependent on a dialysis machine or other life-sustaining equipment
or treatment. There may be several people requiring
equipment, or facilities
may have been affected by the disaster.
If you have a severe speech, language, or hearing disability:
- When you dial 9-1-1, tap the space bar to
indicate a TDD call.
- Store a writing pad and pencils to communicate
- Keep a flashlight handy to signal your
whereabouts to other people and
for illumination to aid in communication.
- Remind friends that you cannot completely hear
warnings or emergency
instructions. Ask them to be your source of emergency information as it
comes over the radio. Another option is to use a NOAA Weather
with a tone-alert feature connected to lights. When a watch or warning
is issued for your area, the light would alert you to potential danger.
- If you have a hearing ear dog, be aware that the
dog may become confused
or disoriented in an emergency.
- If you have a hearing ear dog, store extra food,
water, and supplies
for your dog. Trained hearing ear dogs will be allowed to
stay in emergency
shelters with their owners. Check with local emergency management
for more information.
If you are blind or visually impaired:
Keep extra canes well placed
around the home and office, even if you
use a guide dog.
If you have a guide dog, be aware that the dog
may become confused or
disoriented in an emergency.
If you have a guide dog, store extra food,
water, and supplies for your
dog. Trained guide dogs will be allowed to stay in emergency
with their owners. Check with local emergency management officials for
If you need a wheelchair, show friends how to operate your
so they can move you if necessary. Make sure friends know the
of your wheelchair in case it has to be transported, and where to get a
battery if needed.
Listen to the advice of local officials.
People with disabilities
have the same choices as other community residents about whether to
their homes and where to go when an emergency threatens. Decide whether
it is better to leave the area, stay with a friend, or go to a public
Each of these decisions requires planning and preparation.
Produced by the National Disaster
Red Cross, FEMA,
and USGS. HTML
formating By the
From: Talking About Disaster: Guide for Standard
by the National Disaster Education Coalition, Washington, D.C., 1999.
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