Emergency Planning

​​​​How to Develop Your Emergency Plan 

Woman on phoneEmergencies and disasters can strike anywhere at anytime. Sometimes, they can happen without warning, forcing residents to take shelter in their homes or evacuate their neighborhoods with little or no warning. Weathering these types of situations successfully requires that you understand what a disaster could mean for you and your family. The Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) provides a worksheet to help you get started. FEMA also provides information on emergency preparedness for military families.

  • First, determine the types of disasters/emergencies that are most likely to happen and what to do in each case.
  • After a disaster, it's often easier to place long distance calls than to get a local call to connect. Identify an out-of-town friend or relative to be your family emergency contact. All family members should call this person in an emergency to check in.
  • Your entire family should know the name and contact information for your emergency contact. Don't rely on cell phones; supply coins and prepaid phone cards as well.
  • Take a first aid, CPR or other class so that you're prepared with the knowledge to help yourself and others if needed.
  • If you don't own a vehicle or drive, the city will provide transportation in a mandatory evacuation. But, if you want to go to a shelter or leave town if evacuation is not mandatory, you'll need to make your own arrangements. Determine these in advance.
  • Decide where you and your family will meet in case you can't return home. Keep a record of the location's address and phone number, as well as the phone numbers of your family members, with you at all times.
  • Keep a visual or written record of your possessions to help you claim losses in the event of damage. Include photos of cars, boats and recreational vehicles. Get professional appraisals of jewelry, collectibles, artwork or other items that might be difficult to evaluate. Also, photograph the exterior of your home. Include the landscaping that might not be insurable, but does increase the value of your property for tax purposes. Make copies of receipts and canceled checks for valuable items.
  • Include pets in your emergency planning.
  • Talk to neighbors about how to work together in an emergency. Find out if anyone has specialized equipment (i.e. power generator) or expertise (i.e. doctor) that might help in a crisis. Decide who will check on elderly or disabled neighbors.
  • Check your home for materials and items that might pose a hazard during a disaster.
  • Locate and learn how to turn off utilities (i.e. gas, electricity, water) if necessary.
  • Make sure smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are installed with fresh batteries.
  • Equip your home with a water hose, fire extinguisher and generator. 

Planning for Elderly/Special Needs Individuals, Children & Animals 

Emergency Planning for the Elderly & Special Needs Individuals

Grandmother reading book to childElderly citizens and disabled individuals have special needs when it comes to emergency planning. Many best practices for the elderly will apply to people with special needs as well. The VA Department of Health has provided a helpful guide to Emergency Preparedness for Families of Children with Special Needs.

  • When assembling an emergency kit, ensure that it isn't too heavy or bulky to lift alone. Storing items in more than one container or in a suitcase with wheels are good alternative options.
  • Make sure contact numbers for pharmacy and medical supply providers are included for items like oxygen, dialysis, diabetes supplies, etc.
  • Talk to your doctor/pharmacist about preparing for emergencies. Consider other personal needs such as hearing aids and batteries, wheelchair batteries and oxygen. If budget is a concern, collect these supplies over time.
  • For seniors with children who visit: explain potential hazards to them and ask them to share responsibilities. Teach those who might need to assist in an emergency how to operate necessary equipment. Know your neighbors and consider how they can assist.
  • For individuals with in-home care services, it is important to discuss emergency procedures with that provider. Identify an alternative provider that can be contacted in an emergency.
  • People with a hearing-impairment may have difficulty hearing sirens. In such cases, consider purchasing an alert system that features a visual signal.
  • If you need special help or transportation during an evacuation, register with local government officials who can offer advice about what to do during an evacuation.
  • Provide the power company and local emergency manager with a list of all life-support equipment (oxygen, kidney dialysis machine, concentrator, respirator, ventilator, etc.) required by members of your household. Obtain an alternate power source for the equipment. 
  • Set up a personal support network of people who can check on you in an emergency, help with evacuation or assist in sheltering-in-place.
  • Prepare and carry with you an emergency health information card: This will help you to communicate if you are found unconscious or incoherent. Include information about your medications, adaptive equipment, blood type, allergies and sensitivities, insurance numbers, immunization dates, communication difficulties and preferred treatment, as well as contact information for your health providers, personal support network and emergency contacts.
  • For people in a wheelchair: Plan for how you will evacuate in an emergency and discuss it with your care providers. If you use a motorized wheelchair, have a manual wheelchair as a backup.
  • For the blind/visually impaired: Keep an extra cane by your bed. Attach a whistle; in case you need to attract attention. Exercise caution when moving, paths may have become obstructed.
  • For the hearing impaired: Keep extra batteries for your hearing aids with emergency supplies. Consider storing your hearing aids in a container attached to your nightstand or bedpost, so you can locate them quickly after a disaster.
  • For individuals with communication disabilities: Store paper, writing materials, copies of a word or letter board and preprinted key phrases in your emergency kit, your wallet, purse, etc.

Emergency Planning for Babies & Children

It is important to discuss emergency situations and preparation with children by sharing information on common disasters. Since your family may not be together when disaster strikes, it is also important to plan how you will contact one another and what you will do in different situations. The FEMA Ready Kids website provides great resources for getting prepared and talking to kids about challenging subjects.

  • Show small children pictures of emergency workers at disaster scenes and explain that they are there to help (i.e. police, people in fire suits or workers wearing protective face gear).
  • Complete a contact card for each family member. Have family members keep these cards handy in a wallet, purse, backpack, etc. You may want to send one to school with each child to keep on file. Include your each person's full name, address, home phone number, parent’s work and cell phone numbers and the name/contact information for your out-of-state emergency contact. If children are old enough, help them learn the phone number
  • A family communications plan should be completed and posted in a common area so the information is readily accessible to all family members. A copy should also be included in your family disaster supplies kit.
  • Teach your children their basic personal information so they can identify themselves and get help if they become separated
  • Know how school officials will communicate your child's status in an emergency.
  • Know the policies of your children's' school/daycare center and make plans to have someone pick them up if you are unable to get them. Also be sure to send regular updates to the school/daycare center with current emergency contact information and persons authorized to pick up your child.
  • Make sure children know the family's alternate meeting sites and how to reach your out-of-state contact person if you are separated in a disaster and can't return home.
  • Teach children to dial their home telephone number, parents' cell phones and 9-1-1.
  • Teach children what gas smells like and advise them to tell an adult if they smell gas.
  • Warn children never to touch wires or poles lying on the ground.
  • Role-play with children to help them remain calm in emergencies and practice basic emergency responses such as evacuation routes or "stop, drop & roll."
  • Role-play so that children can know what to do if someone is suddenly sick or injured and what to say when calling 9-1-1.


In weather emergencies, don't plan on taking your pet to a public shelter. Due to safety and public health concerns, few allow pets, except assistance dogs. Therefore, if you had to evacuate, know where you would go that would accept your pets. Sound animal disaster preparedness planning should encompass: one week's emergency rations and water; identification tags, leg bands or tattoos; pet first aid kits; and current photos of your animals, filed with your important papers. 

If you stay home:
Be sure your pet has proper identification. Tags increase the chance of being reunited with your pet if it is lost following a storm. Also have on hand a two-week supply of food, water and any of your pet's medications.

If you decide to board your pet:
Now is the time to call your veterinary clinic or the Humane Society for kennel locations. When determining which kennel to use, call first and ask about emergency procedures and admission requirements.

A handful of shelters will allow pets, but you should register in advance.
Consider buying a portable carrier or cage if you're going to be traveling with a pet. Bring along a collar with identification, a familiar towel or blanket, a two-week supply of water and food, a leash and any medications needed.

Exotic Pets:
Consider leaving exotic pets, such as parrots, reptiles or ferrets, with friends or relatives outside of storm-threatened areas. Exotic pets usually require specialized care and feeding, and are more sensitive to environmental changes than dogs or cats.


Decide which animals you can take or have shipped out of danger and which will remain. Know how they will be left and who will care for them.
  • When hurricanes cause flooding, animals that are not confined will often take care of themselves. Don't allow large livestock to become trapped in low-lying pens or barns. In rapidly rising water, cattle often refuse to leave a barn and may drown.
  • Provide feed and water for the livestock. Water is essential. Thirsty animals will try to break out to get to flood waters. If water is scarce, limit their feed intake.
  • Block off narrow passageways where animals would be unable to turn around. A few heavy animals in a narrow dead end can be dangerous not only to themselves but also to the buildings in which they are housed.
  • Prevent livestock access to herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers and treated seeds. Store chemicals and seeds where flood waters will not contaminate feed or water.
  • Turn off electricity at the main switch. Large animals could damage fixtures, causing fires or electrocution
Cow Livestock evacuation: 
If you decide to pack livestock in a trailer and leave town, animals should be familiarized with their mode of transportation and halter-broken before the hurricane hits. Waiting until disaster strikes to introduce a trailer is a safety hazard and worsen a bad situation.
Staying put: 
Sometimes leaving livestock on the farm to ride out a hurricane is the only option. Keep smaller animals (i.e. poultry, pigs, rabbits, etc.) in a sturdy barn or garage and larger livestock in a large pasture with protection from wind, rising water and debris. This may seem cruel, but if they have a wind block and are on high ground free of overhead lines, they will have the room to move and avoid flying debris.
Disaster preparation essentials: 
Make sure all animals have updated vaccinations, includin​g those needed for the evacuation location, and are properly identified. An external visible form of identification, such as a brand, ear tag or tattoo, is ideal, but microchips or ear and lip tattoos will also help rescuers reunite you with your animals or identify them in the event they are killed.

Assemble a livestock disaster kit and store it in a water-proof container in an easy-access location. A lidded five-gallon bucket works well. It should include your name, contact information, numbers and descriptions of your livestock, medical information and the location of your feed and water supplies.

The American Vete​rinary Medical Association has provided a list of items to include in your livestock disaster kit specific to the types of animals on your farm. 

Finally, make sure the entire family knows how to execute the disaster plan. This will help ensure the most efficient use of time and resources.​

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