Family Disaster Plan

One of the most frightening things about a disaster is not knowing what to do. Even worse might be the belief that there is nothing you can do.

It is normal and natural to be anxious about disasters. However, fears and anxieties can be lessened by planning and practicing what to do before a disaster occurs. You and your family can learn to react correctly and automatically when an emergency occurs.

Emergencies often happen without warning. Where will you go? What if you're separated? Will family members know what to do to protect themselves? Will you? How will you get in touch with them?

All-Hazard Planning Benefits

The answer is called all-hazard planning. With some basic planning, you can provide your family with the tools and information that they need to help them through a wide range of potential emergencies.

Another important reason to talk about disasters is that in today's society, many children spend time alone at home before and after school while parents are at work. It is important, if only for that reason, that they understand what to do, how to react, and that it may be several days before you will be returning home.

Working on your plan together as a family, will ensure that everyone is familiar with it. Practicing your plan regularly will help everyone remember it when it really counts!

Planning Tips

Start by listing household members. Then list any specific needs each individual may have. With those in mind, you can customize your plans and supplies for your family's needs.

Plan to go or stay. Regardless of the type of emergency, the choices come down to two options (Shelter-in-Place or Evacuation). In some situations, it may be safer to stay where you are, such as severe weather or some types of hazardous chemical spills. Alternatively, you may need to evacuate for situations such as flooding, fire, or a gas leak. And, in many situations, you may have to respond through a combination of the two - first, staying where you are until it's safe to leave the area, and then, going to your alternate location. By planning in advance, you will be ready to do whichever action you need to do quickly.

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio (NWR) isn't "just for weather" anymore. In addition to severe weather warnings and information, NWR provides 24-hour alerting for a variety of public safety hazards. From child abduction alerts, to 911 system outages, to hazardous chemical spills, NWR is an all-hazard alert network. Unlike television or radio, its alarm can alert you to hazards awake or asleep. Battery backup keeps it operating when electrical power fails. NOAA weather radio should be in every home and business!

Emergency Supplies

Emergency supplies such as water, food, first aid kits, and tools should be stored in a safe place, in the event of an emergency that makes leaving unsafe or you are unable to leave. At the same time, storing supplies in portable containers will mean that your supplies will be ready to go with you at a moment's notice.

  • Prepare enough supplies to last at least 3 days.
  • In addition to basic supplies, consider the needs of individual family members. Extra eyeglasses or special foods are examples of special individual needs.
  • Money may not be available from ATMs or banks. Store cash in a locked, watertight container with emergency supplies.
  • Documents such as birth, death, and marriage certificates, insurance policies, and bank account records should be copied and stored in waterproof, fireproof, portable containers.

View the Family Disaster Supplies Kit webpage for more suggestions.

Emergency Meeting Places & Escape Routes

Emergency meeting places should be planned in advance. One should be near your home where everyone will gather if you must leave your home quickly. Choose a second meeting place in your area, in case it's not possible to get to your home or neighborhood.

Emergency escape routes aid family members in exiting your home more quickly and safely. It's best to plan a second way out of each room, in case a door or hallway is blocked. Store Underwriters Laboratory (UL) approved collapsible ladders for escape from upper story windows. Once out of the building, whether together or individually, teach family members to follow the family disaster plan and go to your emergency meeting place.

Refuge Areas & Contacts

Refuge areas for severe weather and tornadoes should be in the basement or small interior rooms without windows on the lowest level of your home. Consider storing your emergency supplies in or near your refuge area for faster, easier access.

Emergency contacts can help you get back in touch with family members in other locations during an emergency. Choose a local person for family members to call, text, or email if you can't reach each other directly. Also choose a long distance contact. Long distance calls may still go through when local phone service isn't working. Texts may still go through when phone calls don't.

Evacuation Routes 

Plan more than one route. If you don't have a car, try to set up other options, such as riding with a neighbor. If you have a car, keep at least half a tank of gas in it.


Pets may not be accepted at all emergency shelters. Make sure you have more than 1 option. Plan ahead to leave them with friends or relatives and make a list of boarding facilities that can take pets in emergencies. Be sure to pack emergency supplies for pets, too. View the care and management of pets in a disaster webpage for more information.