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How to create a family communication plan for disasters and emergencies

There's a lot of talk in the news lately about natural disasters and emergency situations. , Your child or other family members may start to ask you questions about "What if that were to happen to us," or, "what if that were to happen here." Opening these lines of communication is a very important thing, because you don't want your child to be fearful and afraid. 

I currently volunteer with the San Francisco Fire Department and the San Francisco Police Department in their disaster units, where they train everyday people to help prepare their community for a disaster or large scale emergency. Remember, an emergency or disaster doesn't necessarily have to be catastrophic it could even be something like a power outage. One of the first things that we talk about in preparedness training is communication. More than likely, you and your family members will not be in the same place when there is a disaster or emergency, so how will you get in touch and meet in that event?



Why Make a Disaster Communication Plan


I want to help you prepare your family, so the first thing I would do is to have an open discussion with your family. Often times people have fear if they can't get up to the minute information and updates on what's going on. Keep in ind that during a disaster, phone lines are most likely going to be tied up, and you never know where you'll be or if you have cell service. Some questions to discuss with your family:

  • How will I let me loved ones and family members know I am safe in the event of a disaster?
  • How do I get in touch with my family if cell phones or the internet doesn't work?
  • How will my family members get emergency alert information and warnings?

All of these are important factors to sit down and discuss with your family as part of your overall disaster and emergency plan. Remember, communication is only one factor of emergency preparedness. 


How to Create a Communication Plan

Step 1: Collect the contact information for your family and other important people. This would include your child's school address and phone number, contact information and address for local hospitals, and an out of state contact. 

Step 2: Write up a comprehensive list of phone numbers, addresses and emails for everyone in your household. If someone's cell phone dies you don't want them to have to rely on that to get a hold of you. There are many templates for doing this and I've attached them in additional resources below. Add in the out of state contact and any other important contacts and addresses.


You can use a template like this from FEMA


Step 3: Make sure that everyone in your family knows how to call 9-1-1 or other local emergency numbers and when they should call 9-1-1 versus someone else.

Step 4: Have a discussion about where you and your family will meet in a disaster situation in the event that you cannot contact each other. 

My suggestion for this is to choose multiple meeting places. Different disasters may require you to go to different places. Make sure you choose a meeting place in your neighborhood, by your child's school, or somewhere else centrally located. Make sure that your child knows what to do if you can't pick them up from school.

Include the information about your meeting places, along with a map in the typed up information that has your contact information.

Step 5: Print and laminate this information for each member of your family. Children should keep one copy at school, and then you should have one at work and one at home. 

Step 6: Practice, practice, practice. Take your kids to your meeting spots and show them where to go and what to do if you have to meet somewhere. 


Let Your Family Know You're Safe

One of the best things I can suggest is for every family member to have an out of state contact. This out of state contact would be the person that you reach out to when and if you're able to email and phone to let them know that you're ok. From there they can phone tree out to everyone else to let them know it's alright. 

The American Red Cross also has a tool to help you let your family know that you're safe: register on the American Red Cross Safe and Well website to let your family and friends know you are safe. 


Please remember that this is just a beginner's guide to basic communication with your family in emergencies. Many people invest in walkie talkies - HAM radios and more as part of their communications plan.

Additional Resources

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