Create Your Family's Plan

1. Learn about and discuss different types of emergencies.

There are several different types of emergencies and disasters that could affect you.  Examples of some of the disaster situations you should plan for include fire, wildfires, tornado, flood, severe thunderstorms, winter storms, earthquake and a possible pandemic influenza.  Learn about your community’s warning signals, such as tornado sirens FEMA lists several additional types of disasters that you should consider.  The FEMA YouTube channel also provides videos about Preparedness.

After you have identified the likely emergencies, make sure you and your family know safety skills such as how to use a fire extinguisher and CPR.

2. Create your plan.

Ask your family for help in developing a plan that works for everyone.  Your plan needs to account for all of the different types of emergencies you have identified as being most likely to affect you.  Consult's Make a Plan for help.

Stay or go?

Depending on the type of emergency, you may need to shelter in place or evacuate.  For instance, during severe weather, you would need to take shelter, but in a fire you would need to evacuate.  Some situations will require that you take shelter or stay away from home for several days.  Include this in your planning.  The VU Emergency Guides for Shelter in Place, Emergency Evacuation, and Evacuation for Persons with Disabilities can help you plan.  Additional information on evacuation is available from FEMA, and they also have information on shelter that is applicable for situations when you may need to spend several days in your shelter.

If you need to evacuate to a location outside of your neighborhood, plan for the best escape routes from your and establish a place to meet.  Make sure everyone knows the location where you plan meet outside of your neighborhood.

Escape Routes

You should develop escape routes for times when an evacuation is necessary.  Draw a diagram of your house and include the best escape routes from the home.  Remember to designate a place to gather outside, so that you can quickly make sure everyone has escaped.  Be sure to go over this with your family, and practice leaving the house using these escape routes.  


When an emergency happens, you may not be at home with your family.  Make sure that everyone knows how to get in touch with each other.  Provide documentation to every member of your family so that they will have a list of contact phone numbers readily available no matter where they are when a disaster happens.  Learn how to access the Red Cross Safe and Well web site to let your family and friends know if you are safe after after an emergency.


Some disasters can cause gas leaks and other dangerous situations.  Include in your plan instructions on when and how to turn off gas, electricity, and water.

Plan for your children

Disasters are very traumatic for children. Children like a routine and when this is disrupted, they become anxious.  After a disaster, children are afraid that the event will happen again, a loved one will be injured or killed, they will be separated from their family and they will be left alone.  Refer to for resources to help your children feel better prepared for an emergency.

Special needs

If you have a family member with special needs, consult for advice.

Plan for your animals

If you have pets, be sure to include their care in your plan.  If you have pets, ask your local emergency management office about animal care after a disaster.  Find out what hotels take pets.  The US Humane Society has information on how to plan for your animals in an emergency.

Involve your neighborhood

Meet with neighbors to plan how everyone can work together after a disaster until help arrives. Introduce the topic of disaster preparedness at a neighborhood association meeting.  Know the skill set of your neighbors. Know the special needs population of your neighborhood. Make childcare plans in case parents can’t get home.

Get Tech Ready

Plan ahead for your access to important online resources. 
Plan how to keep your electronic devices charged and connected.

Create an emergency checklist.

Responsible family members should know:

  • the location and procedure for turning off utilities including electricity, gas, and water
  • where fire extinguishers are located and how to use them correctly
  • how to check and replace smoke detector batteries.

Post emergency telephone numbers next to telephones. Teach family members how and when to call 911. Find the safe spots in your home for each type of disaster. Check your insurance coverage.

Family members should take a first aid and CPR class, conduct a “home hazard hunt”, stock emergency supplies, and assemble disaster supply kits.

3. Assemble your emergency supplies.

4. Practice & maintain the plan.

You never finish preparing for emergencies.  After you have developed your plan and gathered your supplies:

  1. Once a year, review your plan and make necessary updates.
  2. Practice the plan at least twice a year and whenever you have had to make changes.
  3. Fire Safety:
    • Test and recharge your fire extinguisher according to manufacturer's instructions.
    • Test your smoke detectors monthly.
    • Change smoke detector batteries yearly.

5. Keep emergency supplies fresh.

Every 3 months check expiration dates for food and water in your emergency kit.  Replace anything that has expired.

6. Activate your plan.

If disaster strikes, stay calm and activate your plan.

  • Assess for injuries.
  • Listen for instructions from local authorities on your battery powered radio.
  • Assess your home for damage.
  • Sniff for gas leaks.
  • Call your “family contact”.
  • Check on neighbors, especially elderly or disabled.
  • Confine or secure pets.
  • Shut off damaged utilities.
  • Check for fire hazards using flashlights, not matches.

If evacuation is necessary:

  • Wear protective clothing and sturdy shoes.
  • Lock your home.
  • Use travel routes outlined by local authorities.
  • Post a note telling others when you left and where you are going.