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Preparing for disaster

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Create a family plan before disaster strikes

Minnell Tralle, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency

Reviewed March 2016 by Lori A. Hendrickson, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency.

Does your family have a plan for what to do in the event of a disaster? A disaster plan takes into account all family members and give clear guidance for what to do in different disaster situations.

What would your family do in a disaster?

All families should be able to answer this question. To get started in the process of creating a disaster plan, visit Make a Disaster Preparedness Plan, an online resource from the American Red Cross. Your disaster plan will most likely vary depending on the disaster. Some disasters may require family members to meet in the home; others will require them to meet outside the home.

If you have small children, Sesame Street: Let's Get Ready! can help you build a kid-friendly disaster plan.

Talk With Your Family

Making a disaster plan is a great opportunity to talk to the whole family about disasters. It's important to talk to your children, no matter their age. Even small children need to know the plan and have enough information to know what to expect and reassure them without scaring them. Remember, avoiding the topic will not prevent the disaster from happening! Families need to talk about disasters, their plan for responding, and how to be better prepared. See It’s Important to Talk with Children about Natural Disasters for more information on the topic.

Besides children, older adults can be particularly vulnerable should evacuation be required. See Before the Natural Disaster: Planning and Preparing Tips for Older Adults for information to start the conversation with your older family members.

Pack a Disaster Emergency Kit

Have a packed bag ready to "grab and go" should an emergency arise. The kit should be water-resistant and easy to carry. Include a flashlight, food for three days, a plastic bag for sanitation purposes, a cell phone charger, warm clothing, and a National Weather Service battery operated radio. Remember to include your grab and go file of important documents. Children can help by packing their own bag. Place the bag(s) in an easily accessible place and build this disaster emergency kit into your family plan.

Practice Your Plan

The key part of making your disaster plan work when you really need it is to practice it as a family. Plan a test run of the evacuation strategy, for example. Practice it until everyone can do it perfectly and periodically revisit your plan. Is the flood season is approaching? Take the opportunity to revisit your plan for floods and practice what to do as a family.

Practice will allow your family to maximize their safety in the event of a disaster.


American Red Cross. (2016). Make a Disaster Preparedness Plan.

Sesame Street Workshop. (2008). Sesame Street: Let’s Get Ready! Planning Together for Emergencies.

Related resources

It’s Important to Talk with Children about Natural Disasters — Make time to ask questions and listen; be available.

Before the Natural Disaster: Planning and Preparing Tips for Older Adults — Preparation concerns for older adults.

Red File: Your Grab & Go Case for Emergency Situations — Helps you put together a "grab and go" case of important information in case of emergencies.

Dealing with stress — Online courses and resources for understanding and coping with stress.

Pet Owner’s Fact SheetFEMA — Helps you get a kit together and make plans for your pets before disaster strikes.

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