When you begin to work on your emergency disaster plan, it’s recommended to try to get the whole family on board. Sit down with them and really talk about the importance of having a plan for ‘just in case’.
Think of an emergency disaster plan like you’re planning a trip to Disneyworld. You’re going to plan out when you go, how to get there, a budget, stuff to see, communication in case you split up or get separated, etc.
But with this, you’re planning in case something unexpected happens.
Plans do change depending on circumstances, but because you’ve made this basic disaster plan, you’ll be better equipped with the ideas and resources to change plans on the spot if necessary.
Instead of making up an entire plan on the spot, you’ll be making slight changes. Save time, save stress levels and save energy.
Take your time when it comes to research and putting it all together. There’s no set amount of time in which this should take you, but do make sure you’re working on it consistently to get a plan in place as soon as you’re able.
In this ultimate guide to creating an emergency disaster plan, I’ll guide you through the questions that need answering and will show you, step-by-step what you need to do to create an emergency disaster plan.
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Right? Right!
If you can’t get your whole household on board with the actual creation of the emergency plan, at the very least, a household meeting needs to take place to discuss the plan once it’s done.
A copy of the plan should be given to each person. There should also be a plan placed in an easily accessible place that everyone can gain access to. Such as in the hallway, on the fridge, inside of a cupboard or anywhere else that would be easy to see or gain access to.
An emergency disaster plan isn’t the most exciting thing to put together which is often why it isn’t talked about enough or at all. However, it’s important to not only talk about it, but put one together.
Try to make it fun by making it into a trivia game or breaking it down into very simple conversation. Try not to be too rigid or serious about it. Yes, it’s a very serious subject, but to engage everyone, we can bring a little humor or excitement out of it.
First, let’s do some research into your area and potential emergencies.
Do an internet search that says something like, “disasters in Texas”. Of course, replace ‘Texas’ with whatever state you live in. This should pop up with the type of disasters that have happened across TX. This is excellent information to understand. Not only will you get a picture of the type of disasters in your area, but you can also learn from past disasters. You should see something kind of like the screenshot below.
Then get even more micro about it and search, ‘disasters in San Antonio’. Of course, replace the San Antonio with whatever city you live in. You should now see statistics of the type of disasters that happen in your specific city. That first link from usa.com has a TON of very specific data and information that will give you amazing insight into disasters that happen in your area. But of course, there are a lot of great sites to gather information from.
As a bonus, that ‘usa.com’ website also gives you basic crime rate information, weather, schools, housing, etc., as well as basic information about the city. It’s all very interesting information. Getting to know your city is part of being prepared and having a plan.
Write a list of all of the most common emergencies and disasters that happen in your city and even state. There might be something that happens in a completely different city, but there could be residual effects such as extreme weather, financially, supply chain shortage, influx of of evacuees, etc.
Here are some types of natural disasters/weather events:
- High gusts of wind
- Extreme heat
- Extreme cold
- Lightning storms
- Flash flooding
- Snow storms
Here are some types of emergencies:
- Train derailment
- Nuclear reactor issue
- Car crash/car trouble
- Medical emergencies
- Power outage
- Locked out of house or car
- Road closures
- Active attacks
- Job loss
Keep in mind, we want to be prepared for the unexpected as well as expected.
For instance, just because your area doesn’t commonly get tornadoes, doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen. Mother nature is crazy and loves to mix things up. If there’s ever been a tornado around your state, I’d be prepared for one in your local vicinity.
As another example, we know that accidents happen, especially car accidents, no matter how vigilant we are as a driver, we can’t predict what other people are going to do. So we must be prepared for the expected.
We’re not living in fear. We’re not waiting for the day when these things will happen. We simply make a plan and stay vigilant while continuing to go about living our lives. All the while knowing that we have plans in place to keep us safe.
Make your own list of local natural disasters in your area. Also make a list of any potential emergencies that you may want to have a plan for.
How will you communicate with your household or friends in an emergency or disaster?
Cell phones may or may not work, depending on a variety of factors. It depends on where you live, how many people are on using their phones to access internet, call or send texts at the same time. It also depends on if it’s a blackout. If it’s a blackout, cell phone towers usually have backup generators that will run for some time. However, that doesn’t mean that it’ll run forever. In many instances, texts will go through but not phone calls. However, I’ve had it the other way around before where I couldn’t text, but I could call.
Also, the cell towers can only handle so much data. So if there’s 100’s of people trying to call, text or use their service to browse internet, it can overload the tower and slow everything down.
Landlines do not need power in order to function, unless you have a cordless, but as long as the cordless is charged, it should be fine for a short time anyway. If you don’t have a landline, find out if you local gas station or store does. Or find out if your neighbors have one.
Pay phones still exist! You’ll especially find them in larger cities, maybe not so much in smaller cities, but they do still exist. Walk or drive a 10 mile radius of your home and see if you can spot a pay phones. I once counted 5 pay phones within a 2 mile radius of my home. Easy walking or biking distance. Look at gas stations and parking lots near large strip malls.
Radios are a great option. Depending on where you live, a shortwave radio may be sufficient. I’m a big fan of ham radio. I used to rely on CB and shortwave radio but after getting my ham license, my world of communication opened up to unimaginable heights. Carrying around a portable ham radio is easy and effective. It only needs to be turned on when something is going down. You can listen in without a license. In the event of an emergency you can transmit without a license, but ONLY if it’s a life threatening emergency. You shouldn’t be willy nilly chatting during an emergency. Even if you plan to never transmit, but to only listen for intel, I highly suggest getting your ham license. You’ll learn and understand how to actually operate the radio, frequencies and how to transmit and talk to others when you get your license. The ham community is so welcoming and helpful.
Designating an out of state operator is a great idea, especially if you can call out or text out, but no one is answering. You would designate someone who lives out of state, such as a friend or family member to be your ‘operator’. Essentially, this person is responsible for receiving phone calls/texts and taking notes. Basically how it works is: someone calls the “out of state operator”, gives them a message. Someone else calls the “out of state operator” and asks for any messages and/or to give a message. This way, it’s one person out of the danger zone who is taking and relaying messages. This is a great way to receive and relay information. You could even designate multiple people, just in case someone isn’t available.
Another idea is to leave notes along your trail. Let’s say you go to ‘meeting place A’, but you need to move on for some reason or another. Leave a note that says, ‘meet at B’. Even if someone finds it and knows you’re talking about meeting somewhere, they would have no idea where. If you’d like to be even more secretive about it, you could leave an orange X on a nearby rock or a ribbon in a tree. Whatever signal you’d like to leave.
You could also have code words. If you see something about to go down and you need to alert your family members, you could either call or text the code word which would mean whatever you want it to mean. It could mean, ‘get home right now, something bad is about to happen.’ It could mean anything you want it to mean. The best type of code words are usually something simple, but also out of character, because it’d be easy to remember. If your dad suddenly sent you a text that said ‘I love pickles’, but you know he’s allergic to pickles (or maybe he just really, really hates pickles), you’d instantly be like, ‘what? oh yeah! that’s the code phrase!’ Try not to have too many code words/phrases as that would start getting confusing.
Communication is pretty important in the event of an emergency or disaster. Even if you have all the plans in the world, if something goes terribly off course, you can try to reach out to your loved ones to let them know what’s going on.
In your emergency disaster plan, be very clear about the modes of communication that you’re going to (attempt) to use in specific circumstances.
Make it a tiered system.
If you can’t reach dad by cell phone, try to reach by the ham radio. If you can’t reach by ham radio, head home and try to use the neighbors landline. If you can’t use the neighbors landline, try to contact Aunt Lori to relay a message about what’s going on. Continue to try to text/call family members every 5 minutes until you receive a reply.
In these communications, they’d be short and sweet. ‘I’m at location A.’ Try to refrain from super long texts, don’t send photos or videos, gifs or emojis. Keep it simple.
It all else fails, use smoke signals.
Or maybe not? ;)
It’s time to put together some meeting places.
It’s important to have a variety of meeting places. Of course, your main meeting place would most likely be your home, but it may not always be. If your home is in immediate danger, you wouldn’t go there, nor would you tell your family to go there. The road could be blocked due to flooding or maybe it’s just impossible to get there due to traffic jam or whatever the case may be.
But you might be able to go to another location.
Try to designate certain locations well ahead of time. When thinking about locations, think about the areas of town. If you can’t access your home in the south, then you may need to head a different direction, such as north. What type of locations would be suitable in the north side of your city or just outside of your city? Have a variety of meeting locations in all different directions. At this point, we’re designated meeting places, not bug out locations. That’ll come later.
If you can’t get to location A (home) then go to location B (school). If location B is unsafe, go to location C (friends house). If you can’t get to location C, go to location D (Walmart).
The locations you choose don’t have to be a house or official building. It could simply be a meeting place so that everyone can regroup and continue onto another plan, whatever that plan would be. We’ll talk more about that later.
Look at a map, talk to your family and write down some ideas for potential meeting places. Narrow it down based on where the meeting places are located based on accessibility from workplaces, schools as well as directions (such as north, south, east, west).
With your meeting places, note any potential obstacles such as heavy traffic in the area, having to cross a bridge (which could be out), crossing train tracks (but being unable because a train is there), crossing a potential flood zone, or any other obstacles you might foresee. If you see too many obstacles or can’t find a way around the obstacles, the best course of action would be to find alternative meeting spots.
Go to each and every location and verify in person that they would be suitable locations. Find alternative routes in the area and really scout the area out. Make sure everyone is comfortable with accessing these locations by car, bike, skateboard, bus, walking, whatever their mode of transportation might be.
Meeting places is one part of the overall puzzle, but could be potentially a very important one, considering the household may be very spread out throughout the day and sometimes evening. Everyone should be in agreement and feel comfortable about the meeting places.
Are there any special needs from anyone that’s included in your household?
Some examples of special needs:
- Medical needs such as asthma, diabetes, special dietary needs, oxygen usage
- Personal care equipment such as wheelchairs or special utensils to prepare/eat food
- Infant or toddler, they need extra attention, support and needs
- Elderly who have a difficult time getting around on their own
If no one in your household requires any special needs, feel free to move onto the next section.
If they do require special needs, here are some questions to answer:
-How will you keep electrical items charged if there’s no electricity? Do you have backup batteries or someway to charge it?
-How will you get specific medications in an emergency or disaster (such as insulin)? Are there extra supplies in the fridge/freezer?
-Who will take care of small children (pick up from school/daycare, care for them, etc.)?
-If there’s an infant in the household and the infant still breastfeeds, but the mother can’t be there, is there a milk supply in the freezer or stored formula available?
-Is someone elderly or disabled and needs help getting around? Who will be able to help them get to meeting places or stay in communication?
-If someone’s in a wheelchair, is there a wheelchair accessible vehicle available?
Look at the special needs of your household, look at the day-to-day, week-to-week needs and figure out how you’d be able to do everything or have access to what you needed during an emergency or disaster, especially if you had to leave the home.
When it comes to making emergency disaster plans for your household, we should also understand the existing emergency disaster plans at workplaces and schools.
If anyone in the household goes into a place of work, look at the workplace emergency disaster plan. If your workplace doesn’t have one, or has a very vague or limited one, inquire about who handles it and ask if you might be able to head up a committee. Having a well established plan at your workplace that everyone is familiar with will help any emergency or disaster go a lot smoother for everyone. Anything could happen while you’re at work, and while you may know to go into the bathrooms during a tornado, your coworkers may not and it would waste a lot of time to convince them to do so when there’s just moments to get into the bathroom. You don’t want to be the only who survives! Help your coworkers be prepared.
In the mean time, write down what your workplace would do in certain instances. This could be extremely important information to other people in the household. If they hear a tornado is touching down in your area, they know that you’d be fine because of the plans implemented at your workplace. As well as the desire to survive.
The same goes for schools. What type of emergency policies are in place? You want to make sure your kids (or yourself) are safe while at school. When I enrolled my toddler into school, I really hammered them about their processes for emergencies, their security measures and asked how often they ran drills. They seemed knowledgable, security was adequate, so I decided it was a good place for my daughter. If schools don’t take emergencies seriously, there’s a big problem. Every single staff member should be aware of what to do in case of multiple types of emergencies and disasters.
Find out the disaster policies from workplaces and schools and write them down in your emergency disaster plan. It’s a good idea in general to have a copy of these plans for your reference.
If there’s a lack of policies, either push hard to have them implemented, or make your own policies for emergency or disaster situations while at work or school.
Now let’s talk about your evacuation/bugging out plans.
Never say never when it comes to bugging out. Bugging out isn’t ideal; the moment you leave your home, you’re entering into millions of unknowns. When it comes to bugging out, you want to be ahead of the curve. Trust your instinct, if you feel you and your family would be safer somewhere far away from your home, then bug out. Don’t wait for someone else to tell you to evacuate, because at that time, it could be too late.
Trust your gut. If you see something troubling approaching and your gut is telling you to get out of there, then leave. Even if nothing happens to your home, that’s great! Isn’t it wonderful that your home was spared and you can return home safely? But I bet you’d feel better taking precautions instead of risking it and potentially being stuck in the middle of a dangerous situation that you may not be able to get out of because you waited too long.
However, there are many instances in which you may need to bug out.
Instead of guessing where you’d bug out to, have plans in place now to figure out where you’d bug out to.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need 1,000 acres of land in the middle of nowhere. Some people can’t afford land nor do they even want land. Land is not the answer for everyone.
If it’s the answer for you, that’s great! There’s nothing wrong with owning a property outside of the city that you go to when you need to bug out, relax or go on vacation.
However, if you don’t have land, here are some ideas on where you could bug out to:
- Hotel – not ideal because of the expense behind it, but this could be for only a couple days.
- Park – maybe you have an RV or van that you can take to the park to camp for a while? Or maybe you can tent camp.
- BLM or National Forests – same with a park, if you have BLM or national forests around, those might be ideal places to head to and campout for a little while until the dust settles.
- Friends of family – of course, if you have friends or family that are within a 60 mile radius of your home, ask them if you can include their home in your emergency disaster plan as a possible bug out location.
The locations that you find should be at least 30 miles away, if not 60. The further away, the better. Many natural disasters have a wide reach, so you would want to be as far away as possible.
Wherever you decide to go, scout out the locations first before deciding. Look at them on a map, look at alternatives routes. Then physically drive those alternative route(s) to the location(s) and scout them out.
Look for any obstacles in your way, how long it takes you to get there, how much gas it takes, what types of services are on the route, how much traffic there is, etc.
The best way to figure out the average traffic is to go to a search engine and search something like, ‘average traffic for san antonio texas’. Change the city and state to your city and state. You’ll then be able to see average amounts of traffic per specific times of days. Of course, these volumes will increase or decrease based on a variety of factors, but it’ll give you a general idea.
Once you have designated your destinations and performed dry runs on them to scout them out in person, write down the exact addresses (or GPS coordinates) and you can give it an easy to remember name like ‘location P’ (p for park).
When would you bug out?
This is the ultimate question and one that doesn’t have a definite answer. When you would bug out would be determined based on the type of emergency or disaster and if you feel you’d be safer leaving, rather than staying.
Make sure to have your bug out bags and important documents ready to go in an easily accessible place, preferably in a closet that’s somewhere near an exit. We’ll be talking about important documents in another lesson.
Plan to bug out for specific events, or play it by ear. But absolutely have bug out plans ready to go. Be ready to be flexible and change the plans as you go. Having the plans is the foundation.
Keep a physical map of your area, along with the areas of your bug out location(s) as technology may not be effective.
Run mock bug out drills at least twice a year. In these drills, you would pack up your bug out supplies and head to one of the destinations using your alternative routes. It would be ideal if you could stay at least a day/night there, but if you can’t, at least packing up and driving there will teach you a lot about what a potential bug out experience might look like. Of course, the drills would be run during peace time, but do take your time and really think about everything.
Something else you can do to make sure you’re prepared and not leaving anything (or anyone) behind, is to write a bug out checklist.
A bug out checklist might look something like this:
- emergency disaster plan
- bug out bags
- important document folder
- extra food
- extra water
- defense item
- communication item
- turn off gas and water
- lock everything
- fill tank with gas
- take pets
- extra clothing
- special needs
- secure loose outdoor items
This checklist would be placed inside of your emergency disaster plan.
It’s important to have a list of emergency contacts.
The type of emergency contacts might be:
- Local fire station
- Poison control
- Local police
- Insurance company
If you list a relative or friend as an emergency contact, make sure they know that they’re your emergency contact so they’re not caught off guard.
Some useful apps for your smartphone:
ICE – Stores phone numbers, and also stores important information like allergies, medications taken etc.
5 0 RADIO POLICE SCANNER LITE – this app allows you to listen to police chatter in real time.
FIRST AID & PET FIRST AID – The official apps of the American Red Cross has a lot of great first and CPR information that can be accessed quickly from your phone.
Write down emergency contacts and store it in the emergency disaster plan, as well as placing somewhere anyone can easily see the information.
I highly recommend writing out a ‘bug in checklist’. The things that you would do in case you were going to be bugging in for either a short, or long period of time.
Here’s an example checklist:
- Assess situation (what type of emergency or disaster is it?)
- Make sure friends and family are safe
- Pull out emergency disaster plan
- Pull out blackout kit
- Secure outside objects (if needed)
- Secure window and door locks inside home (unless they need to be open for air flow)
- Setup entertainment items
- Retrieve and setup alternative heat or cooling options (if needed)
- Setup alternative cooking methods (if needed)
- Secure animals (if needed)
- Unplug electronics (in case of an electrical storm)
- Pull out HAM radio, NOAA weather radio or other communication device(s)
- Don’t open fridge or freezers (if it’s a blackout)
- Setup alternative sources of energy if needed (backup battery power, solar panels, generator, etc.)
- Fill tubs and sinks with water (consider taking water from water heater if necessary)
- Locate bug out bag(s) and other emergency items, place next to door just in case you need to leave
- Prepare for alternative hygiene methods
The types of actions you would take would vary from situation to situation, so some of these things may never be done or they might all be done.
The point of this checklist is to have it available and ready so you don’t forget to do anything during a stressful time. If you don’t need to do some things on the list, then don’t and hold off until you do.
Of course, the above list is just an example, if there are other duties you need to perform, add them to the bug in checklist.
One of the best ways to understand what needs to be done, is to run a mock drill. Run a blackout drill for a day or weekend and see what general things you would need to do or be aware of in an emergency or disaster.
If you have pets, you’ll need to make sure they’re part of your preparedness plans.
If you’re bugging in, most likely they’d simply remain with you. However, if you can’t take them outside to go to the bathroom, how would they go to the bathroom inside? Would you setup some fake grass turf in the bathroom and let them go in there? Would they even know they could go in there? Would you just let them out in the backyard on a leash and have them go real quick?
If you need to bug out, will your pets be going with you? And if they are going with you, will they be in a crate? Are they crate trained? Are they familiar with car rides? If not, they need to be trained for car rides so they don’t injure themselves, get stressed out and in general, feel comfortable in the vehicle.
If you can’t take the pets with you, then where will they go? Can your local vet board them while you’re gone? Are your friends or family members able to care for them while you’re gone? In this instance, you’d need to transport the pets to another location, so that would need to be in the emergency disaster plan. “Fluffy will need to be dropped off at Grandma’s before we evacuate, plan extra time for that.”
Your pets should have bug out bags of their own with extra food, water, special medications, first aid and maybe a special toy and treats. If you need to bug out, you’d grab their bug out bag and leave.
Put together an important documents folder.
The folder, or binder, would have items like:
- Insurance forms (car, health, life, mortgage, etc.)
- Marriage and/or divorce certificate
- Copies of everyone’s ID
- Cash and/or precious metals
- Cherished family momento’s or photographs.
- USB drive with photographs, copies of important documents and other important information
- Pet vaccination records
- Medical documentation
- Birth certificates
- Reference guides (first aid guides, wild edibles guides, urban guides, water purification guides, etc.)
- Local and national maps
- Will and/or estate plan
- Deeds or ownership forms
- Disability records
- Auto titles
- Education records
- Retirement plan
- Physical inventory list(s) of all your supplies, preps, valuables, etc. Pictures of those valuables is recommended, as well.
- Emergency disaster plan
Yes, the important document folder would, ideally, also hold your emergency disaster plan as well. This way, everything is all snug in one place and ready to be grabbed as you need it to access important information or as you need to leave your home.
Update the information as needed. Such as, if your retirement plan changes, if you change insurances, passports are updated, etc.
It’s a good idea to have a hard copy of all of this because while a USB is small and lightweight, there’s no guarantee that I’ll be able to access the information off of it, nor will it be 100% secure or safe.
The same can be said about the physical documents.
In this case, have backups to backups to backups.
Have the physical documents in the folder.
Then have the backups on a thumbdrive, the thumbdrive can be in the folder, as well as having another thumbdrive somewhere else, such as on your keychain.
Then you can also store a backup in cloud storage, which could be accessed from anywhere.
Backup your information and make sure it’s secure.
Don’t forget to practice your plans by running mock drills.
Running mock drills is an important part of preparedness to see if your plans are playing out the way you expect them to. Even during a mock drill, you’ll most likely learn some lessons that you’ll then be able to change and apply to future drills and to be able to have even better plans in place.
Ideally, run a mock drill twice a year, but you can run more if you choose. Choose specific times to run mock drills and even place it in the calendar so everyone knows when this is going to go down. Then actually do it! I promise, it’s actually a lot of fun. Not only do you get to use some of your preps, but you get to actually see if your plans are effective. If they aren’t, you can change them, which is the whole point of running a mock drill.
Here are some mock drills that you could run:
- Tornado drill
- Hurricane drill
- Bug out drill
- Bug in drill
- Blackout drill
- Active attack drill
- Test your home security
- Fire drill
- Car accident drill
- Home invader
- CPR/first aid
- Stranger danger
How would you, your family, kids, pets act in these drills? That’s what the drills will find out.
During the drills, take your time, be deliberate, ask questions, act out your plans or knowledge/skills as best as you can, try to make it fun (as in, don’t be so serious and scare your kids, kids learn from play and experience, so make it fun for them), write down what’s going right and what’s going wrong, etc.
Set a reminder in your calendar to look at and update your emergency disaster plan at least once a year.
If you can, update the information immediately if anything changes. Such as contact numbers, change in job, change in any procedures, change in any special needs, etc.
However, it’s good practice to simply look it all over at least once a year. Get the family together and go over it with them. At this time, you can also go through everyone’s bug out bags, go through the important documents, the blackout kit and anything else you’d like to go over or inventory.
Below you’ll find some downloads and links to some resources:
Sit down, write out your plan in very clear, concise actionable plans for the whole family.
Here’s a quick example of what an emergency disaster plan could look like
Communication options: Call or text first. Turn ham radio on to frequency 123.456. If no answer through calling, text or ham radio, attempt to call Grandma. Can use neighbors landline or school/work landline. Gas station on 43rd street has a landline and pay phone.
If everyone is at home – Bug in at home until we feel our home has been compromised.
Bug out destinations:
Destination A – North; head to Grandma’s House
Destination B – East; head to Prepper Park
Destination C – West; head to Be Prepared Park
Bug out supplies: bug out bags, defense items, food bin, 5 gallons of water, 4 cans of gas.
If Husband is at work – Get home as quickly as possible by taking alternative routes to avoid freeways. Wife and baby will wait at home.
If home is compromised within 3 hours of first sign of disaster or after communication has been lost and Husband is not home, head to meeting point A – Friend’s house just outside of town.
If meeting point A is compromised, head to meeting point B – abandoned gas station
If meeting point B is compromised, head to meeting point C – location of our cache
Wait for the other at each meeting point for 24 hours, or until the meeting point has been compromised.
If all meeting points are compromised, head to destination A. If destination A is compromised, head to destination B. If destination B is compromised, head to destination C.
Continue to try to get a hold of the other person through texting and ham radio.
Of course, yours will look much more detailed. This was just to give you an idea.
Good luck! And if you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I know this seems like a lot, but a little bit of work now will save you a ton of time in the future. With a plan in place, you can quickly adapt and change as needed based on this foundation.
Conquer tomorrow, by preparing today!