03 September 2011

Prep30: Establish a family emergency communications plan

One of the simplest things you can start with in your preparedness is collecting your family's necessary information and planning your emergency communications. Here's how:

  1. Collect information about each family member, starting with the basics, e.g., name, date of birth, Social Security Number, and important medical conditions or information.

  2. Collect the mobile phone numbers and e-mail addresses for each of your family members.

  3. Think about where each family member spends significant parts of their days in a given week. As you identify these places, make a list of contact information for each one.

  4. Create a list/profile of the above information for each family member in a notebook or a centralized computer file. Since this is fairly sensitive information, be sure that it's protected, however you store it.

  5. The above information is helpful to know how to contact one another. However, in an emergency, contacting one another may be difficult. Instead, identify someone you trust who does not live near you... preferably in another state. List their information in your file too. If possible, list two out-of-area contacts. In an emergency, plan on your family calling your out-of-area contact(s) and leaving messages.

  6. In many cases, you can load the relevant information from above into each family member's phone. In that case, program the appropriate person(s) as "ICE" (In Case of Emergency) in your phone. If you are in an accident, emergency personnel will often check your ICE listings in order to get a hold of someone you know. Make sure to tell your family and friends that you’ve listed them as emergency contacts.

  7. Alternatively, you can create a small wallet card with the necessary contact information on it. You can download an editable PDF template for a wallet card to get started. Since these will have information that you may want to remain private, consider your children's age and level of responsibility when giving them an emergency contact information card.

  8. Be sure every member of your family keeps the information with them and has a cell phone or a prepaid phone card to call in an emergency.

  9. Teach family members how to use text messaging (also known as SMS or Short Message Service). Text messages can often get around network disruptions when a phone call might not be able to get through. (This was common during Hurricane Irene in August of this year, and that wasn't as catastrophic as some disasters.)

  10. Subscribe to alert services. Many communities now have systems that will send instant text alerts or e-mails to let you know about bad weather, road closings, local emergencies, etc. Sign up by visiting your local Office of Emergency Management web site.

  11. Hold a family meeting and discuss all of the above. Be sure to talk over what to do, and who to call (and in what order), in an emergency. Go into specifics for the kinds of emergencies that your may likely encounter, including natural disasters common in your area.

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