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How to prepare a family emergency plan part 1: Destinations

Disasters often overwhelm emergency services.  Forming an emergency plan means being ready to survive when the services we take for granted are no longer there.
Disasters often overwhelm emergency services. Forming an emergency plan means being ready to survive when the services we take for granted are no longer there.
Monika Graff/Getty Images

Life is getting more dangerous. From street crime to natural disasters, never have we seen so many threats to our everyday lives appearing in the headlines and in our backyards. What is your plan if you and your family suddenly find themselves thrust into an emergency situation? If your answer is "I don't know?" then you're overdue for forming a family emergency plan.

An emergency plan does not necessarily mean you will be escaping into the mountains to fight a guerilla war or struggling to live through an apocalypse. An emergency plan is nothing more than a series of procedures and precautions that a family uses in times of disaster to compensate for the loss of order and/or basic services. Begin making your family's plan by looking at the three major components of any family emergency plan: Destination, Communication and Supplies.

We never know where we'll be when disaster strikes. In an emergency situation, your family's first priority is to regroup if seperated. Without pre-planned destinations this is almost impossible. So, it is important that your family have multiple staging points they can use to regroup when disaster strikes. Think of the the destinations aspect of an emergency plan as a series of concentric circles. Each circle represenets a safe area or staging area your family can retreat to in order to sit out or flee a disaster. The greater the danger, the farther away we travel from our innermost circle but we are never far from some kind of refuge.

1. Safe Room. Begin with your innermost circle; your home. Sometimes disasters occur so suddenly that we cannot get out of their way and must shelter where we dwell. Begin by establishing one room in your home as a safe room. You do not need a huge home, a basement or a room used exclusively for this purpose but you do need one. My first safe room was in a two story condo and did double duty as a bathroom. Ideally, your safe room should be the most structurally sound room in the home, be without windows and have enough space to hold everyone in the family plus supplies (more on that later). Basements are often the natural choice for shelter in a home but they can become death traps when the disaster in question is an attack by chemical or biological weapons. These nasty creations are designed to hug the ground and creep into below ground shelters. Prepare accordingly.

2. Life Raft. If your home caught fire, where would your family regroup? As part of your emergency plan, figure out at least two ways to leave each room in your home and have a place to regroup outside the home should you need to "jump ship."

3. Home away from home. You cannot always count on using your home as a rendezvous point. Assume that an emergency might strike while you are at work and you will not be able to return home. Establish a staging area for your family that is at least several miles from your home should your neighborhood become off limits. Good choices for staging areas include public places such as parks, community centers or malls or, better yet, a trusted friend or relative's home. Always remember that your greatest asset in any disaster situation is the network of human resources you have established beforehand.

4. Retreat. Create at least one more staging area that assumes that your family will have to evacuate your city or town and possibly your state with little or no warning. Before you pack the car with survival gear, know exactly where you are evacuating to or you might end up in a government run shelter or worse. If you have friends or relatives who live a few hours or a few states away, talk to them about developing a cooperative evacuation plan. If you're the anti-social type, now would be a good time to start building some bridges with some likeminded folks or you might find yourself fending for yourself when the lights go out and 911 gives you a busy signal.

Whatever you do, do not "bug out" in front of a disaster thinking you are going to run for the proverbial hills and live off the land without a specific destination in mind. Such thinking tends to come from the minds of people who have never witnessed a refugee movement nor been on public hunting land the first day of deer season. Emergency situations tend to create shortages of everything except desperate people. There are very few true wilderness areas left in the world and if you think you can avoid population during a large scale crisis, I'm afraid you're setting yourself up for disappointment.

To effectively prepare your family for emergencies, begin by establishing a concentric series of staging points that will allow your family to regroup during a disaster. Write down these plans. Keep them simple so they are easily memorized and make sure everyone knows where to go if seperated. This is the first step towards surviving any emergency.

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