Be Prepared With a Family Disaster Plan

Learn how to put together a family disaster plan and be prepared for the unexpected.
Every Home Needs a First Aid Kit

Every Home Needs a First Aid Kit

Photo by: DK - House Works © 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - House Works , 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Life happens and so does fire, flood and natural disaster. Will your family know what to do if disaster strikes? Just as schoolchildren practice fire drills, family members need to prepare for the unexpected. A family disaster plan teaches everyone what to do and where to go when an emergency arises.

Make a Family Disaster Plan

Does your family know what to do in the event of fire, earthquake or severe weather? A simple family disaster plan will help all family members deal with natural disasters on the home front. To create a family disaster plan, follow these steps from the "Family Disaster Plan" developed by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross:

Four steps to safety:

1. Find out what could happen to you:

  • Contact your local Red Cross chapter or emergency management office before a disaster occurs — be prepared to take notes.
  • Ask what types of disasters are most likely to happen. Request information on how to prepare for each.
  • Learn about your community's warning signals: What they sound like and what you should do when you hear them.
  • Ask about animal care after a disaster. Animals are not allowed inside emergency shelters because of health regulations.
  • Find out how to help elderly or disabled persons, if needed.
  • Find out about the disaster plans at your workplace, your children's school or day-care center, and other places where your family spends time.

2. Create a Disaster Plan:

  • Meet with your family and discuss why you need to prepare for disaster. Explain the dangers of fire, severe weather and earthquakes to children. Plan to share responsibilities and work together as a team.
  • Discuss the types of disasters that are most likely to happen. Explain what to do in each case.
  • Pick two places to meet: right outside your home in case of a sudden emergency, like a fire, or outside your neighborhood in case you can't return home. Everyone must know the address and phone number.
  • Ask an out-of-state friend to be your "family contact." After a disaster, it's often easier to call long distance. Other family members should call this person and tell them where they are. Everyone must know your contact's phone number.
  • Discuss what to do in an evacuation. Plan how to take care of your pets.

3. Complete this checklist:

  • Post-emergency telephone numbers by the phones (fire, police, ambulance, etc.).
  • Teach children how and when to call 9-1-1 or your local Emergency Medical Services number for emergency help.
  • Show each family member how and when to turn off the utilities (water, gas and electricity) at the main switches.
  • Check if you have adequate insurance coverage.
  • Get training from the fire department for each family member on how to use the fire extinguisher (ABC type), and show him or her where it's kept.
  • Install smoke detectors on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms.
  • Conduct a home-hazard hunt.
  • Stock emergency supplies and assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit.
  • Take a Red Cross first aid and CPR class.
  • Determine the best escape routes from your home. Find two ways out of each room.
  • Find the safe places in your home for each type of disaster.

4. Practice and maintain your plan

  • Quiz your kids every six months or so.
  • Conduct fire and emergency evacuations. 
  • Replace stored water and stored food every six months. 
  • Test and recharge your fire extinguisher(s) according to the manufacturer's instructions. 
  • Test your smoke detectors monthly and change the batteries at least once a year. 
  • Check and update emergency numbers on phone lists, cellphones and PDAs.

The First Aid Kit

The following list covers the contents of a basic first aid kit. In addition, you may want to include a first aid manual and a flashlight and extra batteries for emergency use. Keep the kit out of reach of children.

  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Tweezers
  • Antiseptic ointment
  • Antiseptic solution
  • Assorted plasters
  • Sterile gauze
  • Adhesive tape
  • Selection of bandages
  • Sharp scissors
  • Safety pins
  • Plastic gloves
  • Painkillers (acetaminophen and ibuprofen)
  • Diarrhea medication
  • Insect repellant
  • Thermometer
  • Instant cold packs

If Disaster Strikes

Earthquake, fire or weather disaster can happen anytime, anywhere. When the unexpected disrupts life at home, keep these points in mind to stay safe:

  • Remain calm and patient. Put your plan into action.
  • Check for injuries.
  • Give first aid and get help for seriously injured people.
  • Listen to your battery-powered radio for news and instructions.

Check for damage in your home

  • Use flashlights. Do not light matches or turn on electrical switches, if you suspect damage.
  • Sniff for gas leaks, starting at the water heater. If you smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main gas valve, open windows and get everyone outside quickly.
  • Shut off any other damaged utilities. (You will need a professional to turn gas back on.)
  • Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline and other flammable liquids immediately.

Remember to ...

  • Confine or secure your pets.
  • Call your family contact — l do not use the telephone again unless it is a life-threatening emergency.
  • Check on your neighbors, especially elderly or disabled persons.
  • Make sure you have an adequate water supply in case the service is cut off.
  • Stay away from downed power lines.
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