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Disaster preparedness for you and your family

Families can cope with disaster by preparing in advance and working together as a team. Create a family disaster plan including a communication plan, disaster supplies kit and an evacuation plan. Knowing what to do is your best protection and your responsibility.

Find Out What Could Happen To You

Contact the local American Red Cross chapter or local emergency management office—be prepared to take notes:

  • Ask what types of disasters are most likely to happen. Request information on how to prepare for each. 
  • Learn about your community's warning signals: what they sound like and what you should do when you hear them. 
  • Ask about animal care after disaster. Animals other than service animals may not be allowed inside emergency shelters. 
  • Find out how to help elderly or disabled persons, if needed. 
  • Next, become familiar with the disaster plans at work, your children's school or daycare center, and other places where your family spends time. 

Create a Disaster Plan

Meet with your family and discuss why you need to prepare for disaster. Explain the dangers of fire, severe weather and earthquakes to children. Plan to share responsibilities and work together as a team.

Discuss the types of disasters that are most likely to happen. Explain what to do in each case.

Pick two places to meet:

  • Right outside your home in case of a sudden emergency, like a fire. 
  • Outside your neighborhood in case you can't return home. Everyone must know the address and phone number. 

Ask an out-of-state friend to be your "family contact." After a disaster, it's often easier to call long distance. Other family members should call this person and tell them where they are. Everyone must know your contact's phone number.

Discuss what to do in an evacuation. Plan how to take care of your pets.

Families should develop different methods for communicating during emergency situations and share their plans beforehand with all those who would be worried about their welfare. Options for remaining in contact with family and friends if a disaster strikes include:

  • Phone contact with a designated family member or friend who is unlikely to be affected by the same disaster. 
  • Email notification via a family distribution list. 
  • Registration on the American Red Cross Safe and Well website. 
  • Use of the toll-free Contact Loved Ones voice messaging service (1-866-78-CONTACT). 
  • Use of the US Postal Service change of address forms when it becomes necessary to leave home for an extended period of time, thus ensuring that mail will be redirected to a current address. 

Safe and Well Website

Following the 2005 hurricane season, the Red Cross developed the Safe and Well website, which enables people within a disaster area to let their friends and loved ones outside of the affected region know of their well-being. By logging onto the Red Cross public website, a person affected by disaster may post messages indicating that they are safe and well at a shelter, hotel, or at home, and that they will contact their friends and family as soon as possible. During large-scale disasters, there will be telephone-based assistance via the 1-866-GET-INFO hotline for people who live within the affected areas and do not have Internet access, but wish to register on the Safe and Well website.

People who are concerned about family members in an affected area may also access the Safe and Well website to view these messages. They will be required to enter either the name and telephone number, or the name and complete address, of the person about whom they wish to get information. Red Cross chapters will provide telephone-based assistance to local callers who do not have Internet access and wish to search the Safe and Wellwebsite for information about a loved one.

Be assured that the information on the Safe and Well website is secure and that information about the locations where people are staying is not published. Privacy laws require the Red Cross to protect each person's right to determine how best to communicate their contact information and whereabouts to family members. The Red Cross does not actively trace or attempt to locate individuals registered on the Safe and Well website.


Practice Your Plan

  • Test your smoke detectors monthly, and change the batteries at least once a year. 
  • Quiz your kids every six months so they remember what to do. 
  • Conduct fire and emergency evacuation drills. 
  • Replace stored water every three months and stored food every six months. 
  • Test and recharge your fire extinguisher(s) according to manufacturer's instructions. 

For more information, contact any of the following:

This information is provided by the American Red Cross and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2007.