No new homeowner wants to think about emergencies and natural disasters, but we know it’s better to be prepared. Being a new homeowner brings new responsibilities, including developing an emergency preparedness plan for you and your family.
What is an Emergency Preparedness Plan?
An emergency preparedness plan is exactly what it sounds like: a plan to prepare for emergencies. More than that, though, it’s a plan to turn to when disaster strikes. These customized plans give your family guidance, so you know exactly what to do in a worst-case scenario.
What Emergencies do I Prepare For?
What emergencies you plan for depends on where you live. If you’re in a flood-prone area, you’ll want to know what to do if the roadways – and your first floor – get filled with water. On the other hand, flood emergency planning won’t help much in the middle of a tornado, or wildfire. A quick internet search reveals common emergencies in your area.
This guide talks about general emergency planning; apply these tips to any situation, but customize them for your unique needs.
How do Create an Emergency Preparedness Plan?
After determining the most prevalent disasters area, gather your family to collectively develop an emergency preparedness plan.
Determine Evacuation Routes
Depending on the disaster, you may be ordered to evacuate. It’s helpful to know how to safely exit your home from multiple places, so you’re not scrambling for a solution in the middle of an emergency.
Consider specific the challenges you may face from evacuating from specific bedrooms. Are the kids upstairs? If so, see if their door opens onto a part of the house they can climb on to. If so, how will they get down from there? Or, what if their window opens to a two-story drop? Consider purchasing a fire escape ladder that can be quickly and easily installed in a window. Show your children how to open the window and secure the ladder. Be sure your kids also understand the windows need to stay shut and locked at all other times.
Make sure you’re aware of the mobility capabilities of everyone in the household. While it’s easy for a fit young adult to sprint down the stairs or climb out a window, elderly house members might not be as spry. If the master bedroom is far from where a grandparent might be staying, how will you make it safely to their room to assist them out? Make sure evacuation routes are accessible; have a clear path from bedrooms and common spaces to the front door, free of any steps or stairs if possible.
In an emergency, time is one of your most important resources. Should you need assistance or need to recall important information, you don’t want to waste precious minutes looking up phone numbers or waiting on help lines. Gathering this information ahead of time saves you a headache in the long run.
Think about who you might need to contact, or who has information you may need later on. Your primary care doctor and/or pediatrician should be on this list, as should nearby hospitals or clinics. If you have pets in the family, having veterinarian and kennel numbers on hand is useful.
You should also keep family member’s numbers written down, in case you or your children can’t recall them in the moment. Determine an out-of-town contact as well, so everyone in the family can connect with that person during an emergency.
Scan copies of driver’s licenses, birth certificates, and other important records in case the originals are destroyed; and don’t forget about documents such as medical and home insurance cards, the deed to your home, adoption or citizenship records, and military records. Make sure your out of town contact has this information, so they can facilitate any dealings you have with medical personnel, insurance agents, or others.
Designate a Gathering Point
Whether you’re evacuating or not, pre-designate a space for your household to gather, so it’s less likely for someone to be lost or unaccounted for. First, indicate a place in the house where you and your family will hunker down if an emergency occurs. Oftentimes this will be an interior, windowless room on the bottom floor of your home. However, depending on the type of disasters that are most common to you, it could be something like a storm cellar.
In the event you need to evacuate your house, decide on somewhere nearby – still on your street or in the neighborhood – that is fairly easy to access. Families often select a specific neighbor’s door or yard, as that provides a safe distance from the emergency. Outside of your neighborhood, identify a place in town everyone know; this could be a school, store, or local gym.
Unfortunately, emergencies happen everywhere – even on vacations. When you’re traveling with family for an extended amount of time, agree upon a place to gather should someone wander off. This can be especially useful for anyone who doesn’t have a cellphone; you’ll immediately know where to look if you can’t find them.
Once you have a plan in place, be sure to clearly outline responsibilities. Who grabs supplies? Who evacuates kids or grandparents or dogs out of the home? Who drives? Having this determined in advance prevents chaos during an actual emergency.
This is a great way to get the kids involved. Task older children with watching younger siblings, and have them grab a specific supply item. Often during natural disasters, items need to be moved around the house to prevent damage; having the kids help out not only gives them an engaging task to work on, but also helps to keep track of children.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
Having a plan is a great start, but you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t practice. Running through the process of safely evacuating your home and gathering in your meeting spot could point out flaws in your exit strategy, as well as give you a sense of how long it would take. This is a great time to make sure everyone understands their roles in an emergency; better to get all the chaos out now!
This is also a learning experience for the little ones. Walking through the entire process with them will help muscle memory kick in should an emergency arise. During the run-throughs, have your child learn and recite their last name, phone number, and address from memory. If they’re separated from family and come in contact with a police officer or emergency responder, sharing this information from memory can help greatly expedite the process of getting them returned to you. Of course, you’ll want to make it clear who this information should be shared with, and when!
Something else to clarify for the kids? Explain when and how to dial 911. Since emergency services should only be called in an emergency, be sure everyone understands what constitutes an emergency. Adult in the house is injured, and can’t call for help on their own? A perfect situation. Losing a treasured toy? Not so much.
Assembling a Survival Kit
Sometimes referred to as a disaster kit or go bag, survival kits are an important part in emergency preparation. Gather all the essentials you may need in one place, so you don’t waste time running around collecting everything.
What goes into a survival kit? You’re going to want the essentials – copies of important documents, hygiene products, phone chargers – but depending on the severity of the situation, you may need more than that. Common items also kept in a go bag include first-aid supplies, a flashlight, a battery-operated radio, and a sleeping bag.
You may need some items others deem useless. If you have pets, food and water for them is essential; babies will need a diaper supply; and anyone with medical issues may need extensive medication and equipment. It can get overwhelming quickly, so to help, we’ve created a helpful Survival Kit Packing List.
There are several different ways prepare; it doesn’t just have to be about packing and planning in advance. Here are extra tips to keep in mind as you think about emergency preparation.
- Get in the habit of keeping at least half a tank of gas in your car. If evacuation is necessary, you’ll be grateful to have a bit of gasoline in the car so you can get moving, instead of immediately getting trapped in long lines at the gas station.
- Make sure your home is properly equipped with smoke detectors, CO2 detectors, and fire extinguishers. Check them at least once a year to ensure they’re up to code.
- Familiarize yourself with the local warning systems around your new home. While the Emergency Alert System is regularly used to signal dangerous weather, there are plenty of other ways an emergency is communicated to communities. And don’t forget: social media makes information much more accessible, but it can also cause the spread of inaccurate information.
- Finally, think about insurance! This is a preventative; you don’t need until you need it. Take the time to do your research and insure your home against the common natural disasters in your area. If your home is one day damaged in a flood or fire, you’ll be grateful.
Prepared is the Best Plan
Disasters happen unexpectedly, all around the world; taking the time to prepare in advance can help keep your family and home safe. For all of your new home needs, visit NewHomeSource.com; and don’t forget to follow us on social media!
Mia Zozobrado joined Builders Digital Experience (BDX) in 2019 as a content writer. A graduate of Southwestern University with a degree in English, Mia is passionate about the written word and making connections. Outside of work, Mia also serves on the Board of Directors for the Writers’ League of Texas.