We take on a tremendous responsibility when we become parents. We have the sole responsibility for developing, nurturing, teaching, and protecting our children. We have to provide leadership and guidance so young minds can learn what is acceptable within the framework of our family and our society. And we have the task of maintaining the threads that bind the family structure together in every conceivable calamity.
As parents, we become the focal point for any situation involving adversity that impacts our child’s day to day routine. They will look to us for information and instruction to reduce their confusion and achieve a resumption of the family structure. Our knowledge and skill in knowing how to respond to a disaster are essential assets for our family.
Introduction to the Planning Process
A family disaster plan is a set of procedures that defines how a family will continue or recover from a tragedy. Since parents seldom receive any instruction in family disaster planning, this is one of the most overlooked areas of family safety. It is also one of the most important areas.
The risk of potentially disastrous losses from any type of disaster compels parents to use a common method to family disaster planning. A common approach is beneficial because it ensures that all issues are considered, simplifies the planning process, provides a level playing field for establishing priorities of family needs, and simplifies implementation of the plan.
The basic steps to developing and exercising a family disaster plan include:
- Planning initiation and management
- Risk analysis/reduction
- Family impact analysis
- Recovery strategies
- Developing the plan
- Exercise and maintenance of the plan
- Training and awareness program
Hidden Benefits of the Planning Process
Family disaster planning is a necessity that can be beneficial in more ways than you might expect. Beyond ensuring family functions remain intact during and following a disaster or unexpected situation, family planning efforts can bring a family closer together as they work as a team in the planning process.
But I Don’t Know Where to Start
You already have. By taking the time to read this article you have started the process of educating yourself in the family disaster planning process. Learning what to do when something goes wrong is the very first step in a process that can culminate in a completed family disaster plan and a family much better prepared to survive if an unexpected situation occurs.
What Kind of Disaster Are We Talking About?
By definition it is a sudden, unplanned catastrophic event causing unacceptable damage or loss. By example it might by a fire, flood, heat wave, blizzard, earthquake or any of a number of other natural or man made disasters.
A family disaster plan cannot be developed overnight. A phased or step-by-step approach to planning in order to provide the most protection for the family in the least amount of time is better. At Safe Zone LLC, we have designed a family disaster plan template that is the most comprehensive plan available. It comes with step by step instructions and it is free. You can customize it as little or as much as you want based on the requirements of your family.
Analyze Your Risk
Identify the risks for which you must plan. Basically, there are three elements in the risk equation: disasters that are likely to occur, disasters most likely to impact your home and disasters you are least prepared to deal with.
Our family disaster plan allows you to assess all three.
By understanding which disasters are most likely to occur, you can focus your resources (money and time) on preparing for those events first. For example, it is far more likely that a home fire would occur when compared to a terrorist attack so you would want to invest in safeguarding from a fire first. That may sound too logical to worry about but if you live inland, a terrorist attack might be higher rated than a tsunami. Our family disaster plan template allows you to rate twenty one (21) disasters.
Understanding which disasters are most likely to affect your home provides you with the knowledge of whether your home can be used as a shelter during the event or if you need to abandon it and seek some alternative shelter. It also educates you on how to safeguard important documents.
Finally, you need to understand which disaster each family member is least prepared to deal with. An example will probably illustrate this best.
During a house fire, children who have not been trained in how to react rely on their instincts to survive. In the wild, that is a great tool, in a house fire it is a recipe for disaster. If you think of what a young rabbit does when a fox is near you can better understand the situation. They hide. Children tend to do the same thing in a fire. They will hide in a closet or under a bed in an effort to avoid the danger.
They have to be taught what to do in the event of a fire and they have to practice their response repeatedly. If a fire does occur, they will stand a much better chance of escaping unharmed if you take the time to teach them what response is appropriate.
Analyze Family Impact
What would your family do if confronted by a flood? Where would they go? How would they get there? What would they eat?
Understanding the impact a disaster will have on your family enables you to develop strategies to mitigate or lessen those impacts. Maintaining a disaster kit (also known as a Bug Out Bag or BOB) is just one tool that will help lessen the impact to you and your family.
Plan Recovery Strategies
Once you have identified your risk and the impact you need to determine what it will take to recover from a disaster.
This includes advance preparations for where you and your family will stay, including your pets or other animals. It also includes a communication plan so each family member can be contacted and their location identified. Let’s face it; disasters do not occur when it is convenient for you. Children might be at school or one parent might be traveling on business. Whether it is across town or across the country, a communication plan will help reunite family members.
In all cases, arrangements must be in place for the recovery of vital family records and documents. The backup and protection of all vital/critical records is necessary to ensure their availability after a disaster occurs.
Document the Plan
Once the recovery strategies have been agreed upon, the plan must be defined and documented. Each family plan should be flexible enough to respond to any type of incident. The two major scenarios you must plan for are:
- Sheltering in place. Remaining in your home during a disaster.
The plan must include the following:
- An introduction, explaining why the plan is necessary and detailing its scope: who is included, and the range of events covered.
- A definition of the family structure, giving details on the roles and responsibilities of everybody included.
- Procedures to be followed in the event of the disaster. These would include an alert process when an incident is first discovered, incident or damage assessment, declaration procedures, notification procedures, and team procedures. Even small children should be assigned a role. It may be nothing more than placing them in charge of their own flashlight or a backpack full of coloring materials or games. Assigning them a role provides them a sense of purpose and makes them feel they are making a contribution to the family.
- Location and procedures to be followed to activate a remote communication contact.
Our family disaster plan template allows you to do all of these things.
Your family disaster plan must have an emergency notification list. This list contains the phone numbers, beeper numbers, home numbers, etc. of each family member, as well as the contact list that may be needed in a disaster. (Doctor, Poison Control Center, Red Cross, Hospital Emergency Room, Friends, Neighbors, etc.).
Each plan must have documented procedures for handling an incident that may result in the activation of the family disaster plan. It must document how an incident is identified; who is notified and how and by whom damage assessments are determined.
Documentation on how communication will be handled is critical during the recovery process. It is very important that family members understand how to contact each other and who the focal point is for communications.
Procedures for handling finance issues must be included in the plan. Money should be kept on hand in the event of a disaster. ATMs and banks may not be available.
Human issues such as injuries, fatalities, family issues, trauma, etc. must be managed during the disaster. Procedures for handling these issues must also be included in the document.
Exercise, Maintain, and Train
The plan should be exercised and tested on a regular schedule. Exercises also provide the opportunity to train the family on the procedures documented in the plan. Plan reviews should be performed on a regularly scheduled basis and must occur at least annually. These reviews should be linked where possible to ensure the details of significant family changes are correctly incorporated into the plan. Results of the test should be reviewed and, where appropriate, the plan should be updated.
Training can begin with a table top exercise by providing your children with coloring activities that deal with subjects such as Stop, Drop and Roll, or what to do in the event they are approached by a stranger. It can then progress to a walk through of how to evacuate your home. These are activities that should involve the whole family in a fun atmosphere. For example, an exercise that tests evacuating your home may lead to a family picnic.
Avoid a role of gloom and doom or your children will not want to participate and your plan will become ineffective.
This is Too Much to Deal With
At first glance, that may seem to be true. But remember, we said a family disaster plan cannot be developed overnight. A phased or step-by-step approach to planning in order to provide the most protection for the family in the least amount of time is better. The important thing is to start. The sooner you do, the sooner you improve your own safety and the safety of your children.
We can show you how to build a family disaster plan and we tell you what things you need to have on hand. Best of all, it’s free.
Building a family disaster plan does not have to be one more burden the family has to endure. It should be a simple, step by step, approach that includes fun activities for the kids. And you have started the very first step by educating yourself.
Look through the great information offered here on Parent Wonder. You’ll find some great advice on Home, Parenting, Questions and Answers and a whole lot more. Then take a look at what Safe Zone LLC has to offer. Our Family Disaster Plan can get you started on the road to a safer family.
Below is a list of web sites that you may find of benefit in dealing with real life problems children encounter. The list starts with younger children and progresses to teen-agers.
USFA Kids: http://www.usfa.dhs.gov/kids/flash.shtm
Sparky the Fire Dog: http://www.sparky.org/
Children’s Fire Safety Tips: http://www.redhotdots.net/
Survive Alive by Allstate Insurance: http://www.survivealive.org/
Stop Bullying Now: http://stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov/index.asp?area=main
Too Smart to Start (About underage alcohol use): http://www.toosmarttostart.samhsa.gov/
The Cool Spot (alcohol use): http://www.thecoolspot.gov/facts.asp
NetSmartz Workshop (Internet Safety): http://www.netsmartz.org/
Kids Health (Smoking): http://www.kidshealth.org/parent/positive/talk/smoking.html
Alcohol Free Children: http://www.alcoholfreechildren.org/
American Psychological Association (Sexual Abuse): http://www.apa.org/releases/sexabuse/protect.html
Partnership for a Drug Free America:
Teen Safe Driver Program: http://www.teensafedriver.com/
National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy: http://www.teenpregnancy.org/
Rick Stilley is the President of Safe Zone LLC. His extensive corporate background in disaster recovery and business continuity led to the design of the four zone concept in family disaster planning; personal, family, home and travel. He has also designed one of the most comprehensive family disaster plans available. His goal, and the goal of his company, is to provide parents with innovative solutions to family disaster planning and safety and to make that information available free of charge.