Preparedness is vital to homesteading. While we all have different reasons for homesteading, many of us strive to be independent and self-reliant. Part of that self-reliance is the ability to care for our families and animals when things go wrong. We can and dehydrate food, forage for edible plants and mushrooms, equip our homes for alternative power and install hand pumps on our wells. We may not even realize that the things we do are part of disaster preparedness. For instance, I can jam because I enjoy preserving fruit when it’s at it’s season’s peak, I like knowing what goes into my food, and my five year old eats peanut butter and jelly sandwiches like they are a food group; however, I also have a food item in my cupboards that can be safely eaten regardless of whether we have electricity. We are far from self-sustainability, but we’re getting there.
September is National Preparedness Month. While preparedness is important throughout the year, this is one time when we can focus on the topic and learn how to make ourselves better prepared. As part of National Preparedness Month, I’m going to be going through the steps for making an emergency plan, building an emergency supply kit and creating a bug-out bag. This whole process starts with making a plan. It can be an intimidating process, but it doesn’t have to be. I’m going to break it down into a few different posts so it doesn’t feel as overwhelming. Even if you already have a plan, this is an excellent time to review your plan, update the information and make changes as necessary.
Why Do I Need a Plan?
We’ve all heard the saying, “Fail to plan, plan to fail.” I teach a lot of classes about emergency preparedness, but I know that 90% of my students do not have an emergency plan in writing. I’m lucky if 25% of them have an emergency supply kit. Why do so few people plan in advance for emergencies? Do they think they are immune to disasters? Do they think that planning and preparing are feeble attempts to avoid the inevitable? Do they just not care? I really don’t think any of that is true. Most of the people I talk to have some idea in their heads of what they would do in an emergency. They know how to get out of their homes safely, where to evacuate and how to turn off their electricity and gas lines. However, many of them don’t know where their pets and animals will evacuate. They don’t keep cash on hand in case their credit cards don’t work. They don’t even know what’s covered in their home insurance policies.
If your cell phone died, would you have access to the phone number for your child’s pediatrician? If there is an active shooter situation at your child’s school, do you know their school’s policy for alerting parents and picking up children? Do you know if their school has a policy? Making a plan allows us to think through these situations before something bad happens, collect necessary information, and put it together in one location. It includes phone numbers, personal information, important documents, property inventories and safety information. If your family has special needs, it will also include information for caring for and evacuating with those special needs family members. Special needs family members can include children, babies, disabled individuals and even animals. No two family emergency plans are alike. It will include phone numbers, addresses, medication lists, social security numbers and birth dates. Once compiled, it will become your family’s own top secret document.
Determining the Threat
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of writing the plan, we first want to think about the types of disasters we’re planning against. These can be natural or man made (sometimes they’re one in the same). It can be something as small as a poisonous plant or something as big as a hurricane. What hazards exist in your area? There are some things like house fires, automobile crashes and active shooters that we should all plan against. There are things like lightning and tornadoes that occur some places more than others. And then we have earthquakes, hurricanes and blizzards that can be very region specific. Consider all of your potential hazards, then think about which hazards you’re most vulnerable against. You probably don’t need to evacuate in the event of a thunderstorm, but you may need to do certain things ahead of time to mitigate any damage, plus teach all family members how to properly shelter from lightning strikes. A hurricane may require a complete area evacuation. An earthquake, on the other hand, will happen without time or warning to evacuate. How will you protect yourself and your family? How will you recover?
Most of a family emergency plan is just putting a lot of information in one easily-accessible location. A lot of things like phone numbers and addresses can usually be found in our cell phones, but need to be transcribed to the plan. You can never have too much information in the plan. Remember, you may not be the person using it when things go wrong. You may not think that you need to put your cell phone or house numbers in the plan, but your kids or their caretaker may need that information if you aren’t home. The same goes for phone numbers and addresses for nearby relatives or any other information that we normally take for granted.
Planning for Evacuation
If you may need to evacuate for any reason, you also need to consider how you will evacuate, what you will take with you and where you will go. It is important to plan this information out in advance. If you are evacuating with your animals, make sure you have adequate transportation and a safe place for them to stay outside of the hazard area. Some other important evacuation tips to remember:
- Plan to evacuate with your emergency supplies for your family and animals so you are not a burden to whoever you are sheltering with.
- Do not plan to shelter in a hotel or public shelter. Hotels fill up quickly if there are a large number of people evacuating. Many public shelters do not allow pets and do not offer a lot of privacy or security, especially if you are evacuating with children.
- Speak with friends and family members and find someone who is willing to let you shelter with them. Talk to them about your family’s special needs and make sure they are aware if you will be bringing children and/or pets with you. Discuss special arrangements and come to an agreement about the provisions you will bring with you. Include a list of those provisions in your plan and have them easily accessible with your emergency supply kit in case you need to evacuate quickly.
- Always have your needed supplies on hand before a disaster occurs.
Sheltering in Place
There may be times, like a hazardous material spill, when it will be safer to stay in your home than to try to evacuate. This type of protection is called sheltering in place. This is a type of short-term protection where you seal off a room inside of your home and wait for the hazard to pass. It may be directed for your area if the toxic fumes are only expected to last for a few hours. Evacuating may put your family in more danger by passing through the hazard as you leave the area. Staying in your home, turning off the heating and air conditioning and sealing off the doors and windows to the room where you will safely wait, you are creating a bubble of clean air for your family to breathe until the hazard outside has passed. It is important to plan for sheltering in place if you live near an industrial area, nuclear power plant, interstate or railroad line.
Family Communication Plan
Communication is the most essential aspect of emergency management. Emergency response across the entire country is built on the National Incident Management System, which is basically a giant plan for how everyone will communicate during an event. Communication can be overlooked because of it’s simplicity, yet bring us to a halt because of it’s complexity. In a time when technology makes it so easy to communicate with one another, we forget to plan for what we will do when technology goes dark.
When putting a communication plan into writing, it’s important to put as much accurate information as possible. Not only do we need accurate phone numbers, but we need to know the priority in which to call them. Anyone who knows me, knows to call my cell phone number first, then try my home phone. You also need to know if a person’s phone can accept text messages. If phone lines become overwhelmed, a text message may be through more easily than a voice call. Most of the family communication plan should be easy. These are numbers you probably already have on hand like your parents, your kids’ doctor, your spouse’s work place, etc. If you have pets, it should include the number(s) for your veterinarian(s). It should also include your utility and insurance companies. You should have at least one out-of-town contact that everyone can call to let them know you’re alright. Note: Following 9/11, phone lines were so over burdened that people could make calls outside of New York City, but could not make calls within the city.
FEMA has made life easy by creating a variety of fillable PDFs that we can use as a baseline for our Family Emergency Plans. You may find that you need to add more or less information to your plan, that’s fine. Every family’s plan will be different. It depends on the needs of your family and your own local threats.
The Family Communication Plan for Parents contains contact information for work, school, out-of-town contacts, family members, doctors and insurance companies. It doesn’t have a place for utility companies, but I recommend keeping a copy of a recent utility bill in your plan instead. It will contain contact information as well as account information if you do need to call them for an emergency. I also recommend having another page with the phone numbers for Poison Control and the local law enforcement dispatch (in case the situation doesn’t require 9-1-1).
The Family Communication Plan for Kids gives children the essential contact information they need in an emergency. It also gives a place to draw maps and floor plans so your kids can visually see emergency exits and rally points. You can put a copy of this sheet in your plan, but you may also want to keep a copy of it by the phone so kids can easily find and reference it.
You can also type all of the necessary information into a document or even write it on a few pieces of notebook paper, then put the pages into a notebook as the first pages of your emergency plan. If you’re going to put tabs in your binder, I recommend making your Family Communication Plan the first tab. You may also want to type up a checklist of who to call based upon the emergency. Teach your kids to memorize the most important contact numbers. If you haven’t already, have them memorize 9-1-1 and teach them when to call.
That’s it for the Family Communication Plan and today’s section of our emergency plans. Join us next time when we talk about important documents and taking a personal property inventory.
For more information about making a plan and getting your family ready for any kind of emergency, visit ready.gov.