I’d be remiss (def: negligent in the performance of work or duty) if I didn’t post about the most basic step of  emergency planning – the plan! We all expect police, hospitals, and firemen to have a plan. So why not you?Everyone knows they should be prepared, but keep putting it off. It’s easier to just blank it out of your mind. But if you do just one thing, make a family plan!

Plan a gathering spot outside if you have to leave your house quickly, like in a fire. Grab shoes and a coat only if next to your bed and it won’t slow you down. Don’t spend time looking for pictures or jewelry. Speaking from experience, house fires really happen, are quick and devastating, and are the most common disaster.

My neighbor’s house on the morning after!

To Meet or Not

More importantly, if separated when disaster strikes, how will your family find each other? Don’t count on being able to drive. If you live, work, and attend school near each other, you can choose a central meeting place, preferably somewhere with resources where you could hang out for a few days. The last thing you want is for one person to hike home while another hikes to school. Trying to find each other on foot is likely an exercise in futility.

If you have kids, find out now what their school or childcare emergency plan is! If it includes you picking up your child, I suggest they find an alternative, in case you can not get there. If you have children (or seniors) home alone, make sure you arrange with your neighbors for someone to check on them, and maybe bring them to a prearranged neighborhood gathering spot.

Texting – the New Emergency Tool

The best plan has you check in with loved ones but not necessarily meet right away.  Hands down, SMS texting is the best way to communicate.  Although not guaranteed, these little packets of data have a better chance of getting through than overloaded phone systems or destroyed email servers. If temporarily blocked, they will sit contentedly in a queue until they get through. Some people even have emergency “safe” messages saved in advance, so all they have to do is hit “send”.

Even with SMS, still choose an out-of-area contact person with a cell phone as Message Central for your family. Text or call this contact with updates and messages for the entire family, local or not. That way, at least one person has all the information.

ICE – Not Just For Winter Emergencies

Your cellphone also needs an ICE (“in case of emergency”) contact. Emergency responders look for this quickly to decide who to call first, without wading through your entire address book. If your phone has a security lock, it still sometimes shows emergency contacts on the locked page. If not, ICE apps from your phone store can list contacts and important medical information that override your security.

Finally, complete an Emergency Contact Card for each family member to go in a wallet, purse, or backpack (also helpful with individual accidents). It should include phone numbers, this plan, and any other important information. In this technological age, there is still a value to things in writing. Can you recite all your family’s phone numbers, or are they just recorded electronically ? Red Cross has an Emergency Card that you can download at http://www.redcross.org/images/MEDIA_CustomProductCatalog/m4240194_ECCard.pdf

Homework Assignment:

This week at dinner, make your family plan, complete your Emergency Contact Cards, and enter your ICE contacts. Come back and comment to let me know your success. I promise an emergency preparedness cartoon as a reward!

Be safe,


  1. Hi Sheila, great article. Thanks for the useful tips – preparedness is crucial for safety during emergencies!

    • disasterdoc says:

      Thank you for reading. Even when people are well prepared at home, they don’t plan for a disaster occurring when family is scattered around town. Crazy, considering the amount of time we spend away from home!

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