Steps for Disaster Planning

On September 11, 2001, the unthinkable occurred. Innocent people were slain on American soil by al Qaeda operatives. Our nation's War on Terrorism, including the current Coalition military actions in Iraq, have emphasized again the need for our citizens to be prepared for an emergency.

Importance of Disaster Plans

Although the events of recent years has heightened our awareness, the reality is that any number of emergency situations can force you and your family to evacuate your neighborhood or confine you inside your home. What would you do in the event that an earthquake or a tornado devastated your community? What can you do to protect your family? How do you do everything you can to ensure that you and your family are survivors? The first step is to develop a family disaster plan.

Families with a disaster plan can and do cope better with catastrophic events because they are prepared. Remember, knowing what to do is your best protection in any dangerous situation. Whether it is flood, fire, weather emergency, hazardous materials incident or some unthinkable act, you can increase your family’s ability to cope and survive by being prepared. And the key to preparedness is having a plan.

Action Steps for Creating Your Family Disaster Plan

The first thing to do is educate yourself about types of disasters that are likely to occur here. You might contact your county emergency management agency or the American Red Cross for guidance in this area. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the State of Missouri Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) have publications available to guide you through the planning process.

Warning Signals

Learn about our community’s warning signals. One recommendation often made is to purchase a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Tone Alert Weather Radio.

Established Disaster Plans

Ask the management of your workplace and the administrations of your children’s schools about the disaster plans they have in place. Think about animals and people with special needs early in your planning. You may need to make special arrangements to help children, older folks and people with specific disabilities.

Develop an Action Plan

After you have familiarized yourself with the hazards most likely to face you, your family can develop an action plan. Depending on the type of disaster, the family can share responsibilities. For example, in an evacuation, children might gather the pets while parents gather food and supplies.

Pick two places to meet outside your home. Say, for example, a fire forces your family to evacuate your home in the middle of the night. You should have a pre-determined meeting place outside the home and at a safe distance. This way you will know when all family members are safely outside the residence. In other cases, when your family might not be at home, you should go to the second predetermined meeting place outside your neighborhood, in case you cannot return home.

Contact Information

Everyone, including small children, should know their home address and telephone number. Ask an out-of-state friend or family member to be your "family contact" for everyone to call if the family becomes separated. After a disaster, it is often easier to complete a long-distance call when volume overloads local circuits.

Pets & Livestock

Have a plan for your pets or livestock. Shelters provided by the American Red Cross do not permit animals. You will need to plan ahead to provide a safe shelter for your pets in times of emergency.

After You Create a Plan

  • Post emergency telephone numbers by each telephone in your home.
  • Teach your children how and when to call 911.
  • Learn basic safety measures such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and First Aid. If you have infants or children in your home, be sure that your CPR training includes techniques that are specific to small victims.
  • Show each family member how and when to turn off water, gas, and electricity at the main switches.
  • Teach each family member how to use a fire extinguisher.
  • Stock emergency supplies. Assemble a family disaster supplies kit and individual evacuation packs.
  • Determine the best escape routes from different rooms and find the safe spots in your home for different types of disasters.

Disaster Supplies Kit & Evacuation Packs

Emergency management specialists recommend that you prepare for two eventualities, confinement to your home and the need to evacuate. To prepare for both scenarios, you will need to prepare a Disaster Supplies Kit to be kept in your home and individual packs which are lighter in weight and can be carried by the individual for some distance.

The Disaster Supplies Kit should include enough supplies to meet your family’s basic needs for at least three days. There a number of recommended methods for storing these supplies. Use of a large plastic trash can with a tight-sealing lid is often encouraged. By carefully layering the necessary items, it is possible to store everything your family would need for a week or two in one container.

Prepare a lightweight backpack or duffle bag for each family member that contains that person’s necessities for a period of three days. Be sure that the packs are sturdy, easy to carry and water-resistant.

Supplies List

At a minimum, your disaster supplies should include:

  • A 3-day supply of water (one gallon per person per day)
  • Food that will not spoil
  • One change of clothing and footwear for each person
  • One blanket or sleeping bag per person
  • A first aid kit that includes prescription medications
  • Emergency tools including a battery-powered radio, flashlight and plenty of extra batteries
  • An extra set of car keys
  • Cash
  • Special items for infants and small children, elderly or disabled family members
  • An extra pair of glasses

Replace stored water every three months and stored food every six months.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Routinely make sure your family remembers meeting places, phone numbers and safety rules. Practice different disaster responses like meeting outside, going to a "tornado-safe" room, and so on.

Test and recharge your fire extinguishers according to manufacturer’s instructions. Test your smoke alarms monthly and change batteries at least once a year.

Be a Good Neighbor

Organize a meeting with your neighbors and plan how everyone can work together after a disaster until help arrives. Take Community Emergency Response Training (CERT). Make it a point to find out which of your neighbors have special skills and which neighbors have special needs. Make child care plans so that all the children in your neighborhood are safe.


We all hope that there is never again a need for American citizens to face a catastrophic event. Unfortunately, the possibility of natural or manmade disaster exists for all of us. We can do our families and neighbors a tremendous service by being prepared and training ourselves to deal rationally with emergencies.

Panic is the enemy of survival. Plan and prepare. Hopefully you will never have the need or the occasion to put your disaster plans into action. But if the need arises you will be ready.