How to Create an Emergency Plan

How to Create an Emergency Plan

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With Hurricane Harvey and now Hurricane Irma along with a winter forecast for cold and snowy weather, now is the time to ensure you and your family are prepared.

September is National Preparedness Month (NPM), and it is the perfect time for you to take action to prepare for the types of emergencies that could affect you where you live, work and even the places you visit.

“The core value of emergency preparedness is recognition that, at some point, an emergency is going to happen,” notes Craig DeAtley, PA-C, director of the Institute for Public Health Emergency Readiness at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. “From there, you plan for all contingencies and make certain you have what you need well in advance.”

For public institutions like hospitals and city government, that means preparation and drills and revising plans based on failures during those drills. DeAtley says the same is true for individuals and families: “Preparedness means knowing what you need and having plans for communication, information, evacuation or sheltering in place.”

With a little planning, you can ensure you and your loved ones are prepared for whatever may happen down the road. Read on to learn about the essential components of an emergency plan, as well as how to create one for yourself.

Step One: Have a Communication Plan in Place

Since many disruptions and disasters can (and will) occur when you and your family may be separated–for example, during the day, while you are at work, or family members who live far away–it’s important to start your preparation by creating a family communication plan.

This should not only include verifying and documenting everyone’s most up-to-date contact information, but also designating emergency contacts and ensuring your family is aware of all emergency contact numbers. The CDC also recommends creating a contact card for each member of your family, which includes valuable information such as school and emergency contacts.

Often during disaster, phone service is disrupted. When you can't get through by phone to someone try texting next, that still may be working. An effective communication plan should include having the contact number for a family member or friend who lives out of state and having everyone call or text that person when you can't reach your family member directly.

Also, in a disaster situation, local emergency numbers may be busy. So it may be wise to make a note of an emergency phone number for a nearby town, in case you are unable to get through to local authorities.

Finally, if you have younger children, teach them how to call 9-1-1, when there is an emergency, or they need help.

Step Two: Pack an Emergency Bag

In some situations, a small, personal emergency bag placed in your car truck, in your locker or at the office can be very helpful. Here are items to consider including in such a bag:

  • Emergency numbers and phone numbers of friends and family
  • Essential medications
  • Eye glasses, contact lens solutions, hearing aid batteries
  • Toiletries/personal hygiene items (e.g., travel packages of moist towelettes, soap, shampoo, deodorant, shaving cream, razor, toothbrush, toothpaste, anti-bacterial hand gel, tissues, etc.)
  • Comfortable shoes with extra socks
  • Extra set of work clothing, sleep clothing, lightweight jacket and rain poncho
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Chemstix and/or lightsticks
  • Flashlights with spare batteries
  • Small radio with batteries
  • Spare house and car keys (hidden in bag)
  • Cellphone charger
  • Metro card and map
  • Food (3 day supply) and bottled water (1 gallon of water per day for each person)
  • Comfort pack (family photos, notebook, book and games)
  • Bag of sand or cat litter and a small shovel for the trunk of your car
  • Emergency blanket/space blanket/survival blanket (when packaged they measure about 3”x4” and weigh just a few ounces)
  • Work gloves
  • Tissue paper

“If you have basic supplies and know your resources and your contacts, you will be able to manage much better in almost any situation,” says DeAtley. 

Step Three: Create an Actionable Emergency Plan

Once you have your communication plans and emergency bag complete, it is time to sit down and plan out what you and your loved ones should do, if something happens. Considerations include child or elder care, transportation needs and pet care. In addition, you will also want to take care of and protect your property, so document plans for snow removal, as well as occasional check-ins–perhaps from a neighbor–to ensure all is well.

Your emergency plan should also consider transportation, such as determining alternate options for commuting to and from work. For instance, in the Washington, D.C., blizzard of 2010, also known as "Snowmageddon," many city residents and commuters had to make alternative work travel arrangements, as it took many bus lines close to a week to resume regular service.

You will also want to prepare for incidents that transpire while you are at home, by designating safe spots or areas, as well as identifying two escape routes for each room in your home. And don’t forget to learn how to shut off your water, gas and electricity.

There are many other websites that provide step-by-step instructions for emergency planning and checklists to help you get organized, DeAtley says. For example, at, you can download the Federal Emergency Management Association app and a Hurricane Preparedness Social Media toolkit.

Additionally, you can print forms that help you establish and remember emergency plans and numbers. There are also tips on specific disaster preparations and special interest tips, such as how to plan if you have special needs, live on a college campus or need to know how to evacuate.

At, you can find information on how to prepare for disasters including disease outbreaks and terrorist incidents.

In the Meantime

While emergencies often occur without warning, that is not always the case. Stay informed by maintaining awareness of information disseminated by local news stations and authorities. Additionally, remember that sometimes the best preparation is simple practice. So occasionally take advantage of those moments when the sun is shining to test your emergency plan.

Practice your escape routes and quiz loved ones to ensure they know what to do when the unexpected happens.

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