Your Family Communication Plan
The best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your own arm.” – Unknown Source
While some disasters like hurricanes may come with warnings, most emergencies are unexpected, causing you and your family to be separated. Your children may be in school and at least one adult may be at work. Weekends are no exception. With members of active families heading off in different directions, it’s especially necessary to develop ways of finding each other in the event of a crisis.
In Month One you made 3 x 5 cards with the daily routines for each of your family members (who is going where and at what time). You also listed extended family members and close friends who live in your community. (Remember: Be sure to ask permission of others before including them in your plans and keep them informed of any changes that may impact them. It’s powerful and enabling to know you can count on others and that you have extended this same generosity to others.)
The Lead (The “Who”)
Now it’s time to decide who in your household will be the “Lead” in case of a disaster. This person should have the ability to remain level-headed and calm during a dangerous situation. Agree in advance who can guide quickly and rationally, and without conflict. Your “Lead” is likely, but not always, the adult who has the most predictable schedule and the least out-of-town travel. Identifying this person establishes a chain of command.
Choose a backup Lead in case the primary choice is not available. Should something happen to your Lead, or they are not available, the second in command can provide the necessary direction and support.
Meeting Places (The “Where”)
Identify where you and your family will meet after disaster strikes. Review how your family operates and the patterns you have discovered as you choose your meeting places.
- Provide temporary shelter at an agreed-upon location.
- Provide a way to re-establish communication with your family in an efficient and resourceful way.
After the primary location has been chosen, pick a room within that structure for shelter. If you have chosen your home, select an interior room or the basement, as long as it is strong and provides minimum exposure. If you have decided on a place other than your home, make sure you know the structure well, and be sure to have a way to enter if the building has been locked.
Your primary meeting place may very well be your home, but it may not be an available option. Some homes are more vulnerable than others:
- Mobile homes are considered a high-risk during tornadoes
- Low-lying homes are subject to flooding in heavy storms
- Homes in remote or inaccessible areas may be threatened by wildfires
- If you live in a high-rise, choose someplace close by but at ground level
Be conservative when selecting locations!
Getting Home When at Work
Consider how easy or difficult it will be to get to your primary meeting place from work.
Does it make sense to try to get there right away?
Would it be better to stay at work, or find a safe place near work until it’s safe to move to your primary meeting place?
If you plan to stay at work or find a safe place near work, make sure everyone in your family knows that is your plan.
Getting Home When at School
Coordinate your evacuation plans with your children’s schools.
Be sure your children understand both the school’s plan and your own.
Understand what the school will do to protect your child while on campus. Whatever the school’s state of preparedness (or lack thereof), work that information into your own plans. For example:
- Will the children be kept in their classrooms, or will they be gathered in some central location on campus? If so, find out where.
- Will the school attempt to get children home or will they be kept on campus? At what point is that decision made and how is it communicated to parents or guardians?
- If children are kept at school, should you pick them up immediately or are you expected to leave them there until the situation is less chaotic?
- If you are expected to pick them up, where do you go? How will you find each other?
- If the school is forced to evacuate, to what location will they be evacuated?
- What form of identification will be required to let you pick up your child?
- What happens if you cannot pick up your children?
- How do you make arrangements for someone else to pick them up?
- If you have teenagers who drive themselves to school, help them plan what they will do in various emergency scenarios. Regardless of age, make sure each child knows the above information and review it with them periodically.
Have a Plan B – Within the Vicinity
If your primary meeting place is destroyed, or access is cut off, plan to meet at another pre-arranged location. Often community centers or schools themselves are designated evacuation centers, but many states will not make such a designation until disaster has struck. If you are unable to identify evacuation centers in your area, contact your local Red Cross for help.
To determine the best secondary meeting place for you and your family, consider patterns of movement, routines, schedules, times of the year, etc. for each family member. Take into consideration what options each person may have if:
- They have no personal means of transportation
- They depend on public transportation and it is out of commission
- The second meeting place is inaccessible (Does a third reasonable alternative exist?)
NOTE: As with all meeting places, make sure everyone is clear on how they are going to get to each one of them. If you have a car, drive to your meeting places a few times. Since you may not have a car during an emergency you should walk to each location at least once. Your perspective and observations are different from the comfort of a car than when you are on foot. Notice landmarks and how they might guide you if street lights or roads are out of commission. While landmarks are easy reference points, make note of their relationship to other things because landmarks may be damaged or unrecognizable after a major event.
Have a Plan B – Outside the Vicinity
An out-of-town designated location could come in handy. This is the place toward which everyone will head if your community is evacuated. One hundred miles away (+/-) is a good rule-of-thumb. The phone number at this location should be used by all members of the family in case you get separated from one another. Keep in mind your Plan B location could change depending on different types of disasters. For example: Being inland is safer than coastal terrain when faced with hurricane conditions (during this time any place along a threatened coast and its course headings would not be considered a safe haven).
When choosing your out-of-town meeting place you also need to seriously consider the route to take. If your community has an evacuation plan, become familiar with it. For instance, if everyone in your area is headed north on the same freeway, you will be facing gridlock. It may make more sense to stay home, but we’ll talk more about how to make the decision to stay or go at a later time.
Remember: Discuss your plans with people on your contact list before disaster strikes to verify they can help if you are forced to evacuate your community.
Using your contact list, make a phone tree diagram of who will call whom during a disaster. The goal is two-fold:
- Make sure everyone is notified of the disaster
- To reduce the number of calls being made during a disaster
Each person on the list calls the next person to convey the message. If that person is not home, leave a message and call the next person on the list. The last person on the phone tree should call the first person to ensure that the tree is completed and that the message was accurate.
Next>> Month 6: Should You Stay?