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The saying goes, “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.” Most of us know how to stay positive and have wishful thinking at the ready, but may not know exactly how to prepare ourselves for the worst-case scenario. In terms of home emergencies and natural disasters, it can feel overwhelming to think of what would need to be done to stay safe under those circumstances. The best way to be able to stay calm and collected in high-pressure situations is to make a plan and have it handy in your time of need. By following these steps, you can put together your very own emergency plan to keep you and your family safe in the event of a disaster.

Identify Potential Threats

Depending on where you live, different physical threats will be relevant to you. For example, here in the Pacific Northwest, it is extremely unlikely that we will be faced with tornadoes or hurricanes based on our weather and location. While it doesn’t hurt to be ready for anything, it is important to start with the potential disasters that are most likely to occur. For Washington and Oregon, the most common disasters include home fires, wildfires, flooding, and earthquakes.

In your specific neighborhood, you may find you are more susceptible to these natural disasters or other risk factors. Break-ins and shootings can happen anywhere, but may be more prevalent in certain communities. If your neighborhood has a higher rate of certain crimes, it is wise to plan ahead for what you would do in the event you are the victim of one of those crimes.

Have a Family Discussion

In order to keep everyone in your household safe, everyone should be involved in the conversation of what to do in an emergency. Some ideas may not be reasonable, feasible, or comfortable for each of your family members, so having their input will ensure that each person will be able to execute the plan. Have an open discussion with your family where you all can talk about potential threats and how you would want to handle these situations as a group.

Emergencies naturally trigger our defense response, meaning emotions run high. It is critical to simplify the steps and goals to make sure everyone is able to get to safety and protect one another even with adrenaline running. Determine how your family will best operate under this pressure and what things need to be done. Is there one person that you would all feel comfortable having in charge of the emergency response? Does each person have a specific role to fulfill, such as calling 911 or getting the family pets to safety?

Determine the Escape Routes in Your Home

The most critical piece of emergency planning is how to get to safety safely. There are likely 2 main ways to exit the home, such as through a front and back door, but make sure you consider some alternatives if the disaster impedes these escape options. For example, if you have a 2-story home, how would you safely get out of the home? The best option for second story escape is a fire escape ladder, which should be stored in every upstairs room that has a window. These can be quickly secured in a window and used to safely get out of the home and back to ground level.

This is a good time to evaluate the living dynamics of your household. If you live with someone who has physical limitations due to age or a health condition, it is a good idea to have them on the first floor near one of the main exits if possible. This will help give them the time and ability needed to safely exit the home without potentially getting stuck on the second floor. Even if the person is capable of getting up and down the stairs, it may be wise to still consider relocating their bedroom to the first floor for their own safety. This conversation can be ongoing and can change as their needs and feelings change.

Decide on a Meeting Place and Communication Plan

Emergencies may sometimes force families to separate or stay separated for a time in order to safely escape. It is important to identify a meeting place in the event of separation that everyone can get to so you can regroup. It is best if the meeting place is within walking distance for anyone that is not old enough or able to drive. Usually a convenient and well-known spot in the neighborhood such as a park or playground is a good choice because it is often well-lit at night. You can also coordinate with a friendly neighbor that is at least a few blocks away from your home if you have a good relationship with them. This can be a nice option because you are likely guaranteed to still have internet access, phone service, and a warm place to plan your next steps.

Not everyone may be home when the disaster strikes, so it is important to determine who needs to be contacted and how. If you are a parent or guardian, you will want to find a simple solution for your children so they can easily get in touch with you. Decide on two emergency contacts in addition to yourself and encourage your child to memorize at least one of them. It is strongly encouraged to have important phone numbers written down and displayed in multiple obvious locations around the house so children can quickly use them in the event of an emergency. If your kids do not have their own cell phones, you may want to invest in a family emergency phone that they can use to call or text if something goes wrong at home and they need to get in touch with you.

Prepare an Emergency Bag

It isn’t always possible to grab all of the essentials and critical documents when a disaster happens. One way around this is to prepare an emergency bag with an extra pair of clothes for each family member, as well as a first aid kit, toiletries, and nonperishable food. It is highly recommended to also make copies of any pertinent documents such as birth certificates, financial information, and medical records so that they are not lost if the home is destroyed. Prepare a file with the most important documents of everyone in your family, and allow for special items or photos to be included as well. The bag should be light enough to easily carry, so remind your family to only add what is absolutely essential or truly irreplaceable.

Write Down Your Plan and Review Regularly

Once you have decided on all of the details of your emergency response plan, make sure to write down everything so your family can quickly refer to it. The Red Cross and Ready both have excellent resources for notating your emergency response plan. You can access a template to fill and print with the Red Cross here, or complete an electronic form with Ready here. You may want to make a few copies to have around the house and keep one hanging in a common area, such as on the fridge or in the living room. Every 6 months, it is recommended to meet as a family and review the plan to make sure nothing has changed, such as emergency contacts, meeting places, or special needs. Each time you move into a new home, make sure to review your emergency plan and modify it according to your new living space and neighborhood.

Review Your Home Insurance

In the event of a disaster, you may also be wondering how your home and belongings are protected. Our personal insurance team is here to help you understand your homeowners insurance coverage and help you find the right protection for you and your family. Call us today to learn more and see how we can further help you prepare for an emergency.

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