Developing a Family Emergency Action Plan in 2024

Developing a Family Emergency Action Plan in 2024

by Rebekah Brown

FEMA reports that only 57% of Americans took concrete action to prepare for an emergency in 2023. Creating an emergency action plan for your family is the best way to protect them if disaster strikes. 

In this article, we’ll cover how to create an emergency action plan (EAP) specifically tailored to your family’s needs. We will also help you make EAPs for different scenarios that may arise.

phone family emergency action plan

Source: Eugene Chystiakov on Unsplash

Table of Contents

  • 01

    Understanding the Importance of Emergency Preparedness

  • 02

    Developing an Emergency Action Plan (EAP)

  • 03

    Key Components of an Emergency Response Plan

  • 04

    Type of Emergency Action Plan

  • 05

    Developing and Implementing an Emergency Plan

  • 06

    Supporting Each Other

Understanding the Importance of Emergency Preparedness

The purpose of drafting an emergency action plan is not to panic people or cause anxiety. It is to help all members of a household communicate effectively in an emergency, understand their responsibilities and resources, and keep everyone safe. 

Why Prepare?

Emergencies, by definition, are unannounced and happen quickly. An EAP allows you and your family  to respond quickly, calmly, and effectively to a medical or another emergency, accident, natural disaster, or safety threat. 

family emergency action plan chart

Source: FEMA

Common Scenarios

When creating a family action plan for your household, it’s important to have a plan for different kinds of scenarios. 

  • House fire

  • Wildfire

  • Power outage

  • Water contamination

  • Blizzard

  • Tornado

  • Tsunami

  • Hurricane

  • Active shooter

  • Medical emergencies

  • Terrorism 

Now, it's important that one part of your plan should focus more on making sure that emergency responders are able to arrive at the scene and treat the injured or affected.

You should have a plan in place for both common and rare scenarios. In the U.S., there are 138.9 million emergency room visits per year. It’s extremely likely that you or a loved one will have a health emergency at some point.

Despite this, fewer than half of Americans reported knowing how to respond effectively to several common or emergency medical situations.

emergency action plan first responders

Source: AI

It’s important to plan for unlikely emergencies as well, like war, terrorism, and civil unrest. Having emergency equipment at hand could play a massive role in keeping your family safe 

Here's how you can develop a plan that prioritizes emergency evacuation, keeps your family safe, and ensures that first responders can reach your place quickly.

Developing an Emergency Action Plan (EAP)

These key components of emergency action will help you design a plan that keeps everyone safe in the event of an emergency. 

Step 1: Make a Family Communication Plan

Your family members spend much of the day in separate locations. Your EAP needs to make sure that family members can communicate with each other and with emergency personnel. 

Your communication plan should include:

  • A list of emergency contacts

  • A plan for getting in touch with each other (for example: “we all text Dad our location immediately”)

  • A meeting place after you evacuate

The family emergency list should include every family member’s contact information. It should also include at least one neighbor, your children’s school(s), babysitters, and each person’s workplace. 

Your emergency contact list should be saved to your phone under ICE (In Case of Emergency)/Emergency contact, which can be accessed by anyone without a password. 

Teach kids how to access emergency contacts and dial 911 in case adults are incapacitated or unreachable and need access to medical services or have to call the fire department. 

Step 2: Build an Emergency Supplies Kit

You should keep an emergency supply kit at home, in the car, and at your workplace or school. Keep in mind that you may not be at home when an emergency hits

All family members should know where the kit is and how to use each part of it. 

Source: Ready.Gov

Your emergency kit should include: 

  • A first-aid kit

  • Flashlight

  • Batteries

  • Phone charger

  • Local map

  • Non-perishable food (3 days for an evacuation, 2 weeks at home, according to the Red Cross)

  • Extra cash

  • Hand sanitizer

  • Masks

  • Portable blankets

  • Copies of important documents

  • Specific medical necessities

It's imperative that the kit also has items to protect against hazardous materials, like a gas mask, for instance. 

Step 3: Evacuation Routes and Shelter Plans

During an emergency, main roads and highways can become congested and may prevent you from leaving. Identify multiple evacuation routes from:

  • Home

  • School

  • Work

  • Daycare/babysitter

  • Friends’/relatives' homes where you or your kids spend a lot of time

Once you’ve identified routes out of a dangerous area, you need a detailed plan for where to go. 

You can search for local emergency shelters to go to in the event of an evacuation, or text “DRC” and your zip code to the phone number 443362 for a list of nearby Red Cross emergency shelters. 

disaster recovery locator emergency action plan

Source: FEMA

Identify a location outside of your town or city which would ensure the safety of your family. Check with friends and relatives who could provide an emergency shelter and add them to the emergency contact list. Consider offering to serve as their out-of-town evacuation destination as well for different types of emergencies. 

Make sure everyone in your family knows where to meet in case of an evacuation. Most people’s instinct tells them to go home, but that may not be a viable option. Hotels can be a safe meeting place in an emergency. 

Practice your evacuation drill routes. Start from multiple locations, like the grocery store or your child’s school. Make sure everyone knows the route, how to stay in communication, and where to go in the event of an emergency. 

Step 4: Special Considerations

Everyone needs to be prepared for an emergency. Consider family members who will need extra help:

  • The elderly

  • Special needs

  • Mobility issues

  • Infants and toddlers

  • Pets

  • Specialized medical equipment
man holding the dog family emergency action plan

Source: Freepik

Common medical needs that need to be included in your evacuation plan:

  • Mobility aids: canes, wheelchairs, and walkers

  • Oxygen tanks

  • Glasses

  • Hearing aids and batteries

  • “Rescue” medication: EpiPens, inhalers

  • Infant formula

  • Prescription medication (keep a 7-day supply in your emergency kit and replace it with fresh medication monthly) 

Key Components of an Emergency Response Plan

Writing down your household’s comprehensive emergency action plan should be your first step. 

evacuation route emergency action plan

Source: Pixabay

Regular Drills and Training

Practicing your plan makes it more likely that family members will automatically follow the evacuation procedures during an emergency instead of panicking. 

Conduct regular drills to improve emergency management for different scenarios, like:

  • Family members are all home and need to evacuate

  • Family members are all in different locations and need to evacuate the city

  • Order is given to shelter at home, but Grandma is at the grocery store

  • The family is in the car on a highway when an emergency hits

  • One family member is directly affected and is in the hospital; order is given to evacuate

  • Cell service is interrupted and you can’t make contact with all family members

  • Order is given to evacuate and two of your children are with their non-custodial parent

You can see that there are many different possible situations. Knowing the escape routes, identifying signs of a chemical spill, and understanding floor plans, and above all, how to respond properly, can all go a long way in keeping your family safe.

It is crucial to know your plans in case of a fire emergency at your workplace or your child's school. Keep in mind that you likely won’t be able to reach your child’s school via phone in case of a public emergency, for instance. 

Have kids practice stating their name, location, and nature of the emergency. This is crucial information for a 911 operator. Practice this in the car, at school, at the grocery store. It should be automatic. 

Although the most important thing for kids to know how to do is to call 911, older kids can learn basic first aid, like applying pressure to a bleeding wound until help arrives. 

Stay Informed

Emergency situations can change quickly. Stay informed by installing weather and emergency notification apps on your phone. 

A weather radar app can help you track weather-related emergencies like tornadoes, tsunamis, and hurricanes. Make sure it is tailored to your specific location. 

Consider installing the Google Personal Safety app and enabling Crisis Alerts. This provides alerts to how disasters may affect your evacuation route on Google Maps.

google personal safety emergency action plan

Source: Pocono Record

You can also turn on public safety alerts on your iPhone, which will alert you of weather emergencies, public safety announcements, and government-issued warnings. 

The FEMA App provides emergency alerts. 

Keep in mind that you likely won’t have access to WiFi during an actual emergency.  Consider a hand-crank or battery-operated radio that is not reliant on the internet.

Community Involvement

Many local governments and community organizations help people make plans for emergencies. 

Research your town or city’s emergency preparedness plan and identify emergency shelter locations and emergency hotlines. 


city's emergency action plan
Source: U.S. Dept. of Veteran Affairs


Encourage your neighbors, friends, and family members who don’t live with you to create their own EAPs. Remember, it must be in writing and should have enough information to ensure that every participant knows what to do. You can even share examples of EAPs with each other to foster improved emergency reporting in the neighborhood.

Type of Emergency Action Plan

There are three stages of emergency response: before, during, and after. Adequate planning for each stage helps keep everyone safe and calm. 

Prevention Plan

If you haven’t already, make sure to take the following precautions:

  • Anchor heavy furniture to the wall so it doesn’t fall on anyone during earthquakes

  • Install smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire alarms

  • Keep a supply of potable water in your home

  • Write your EAP and practice it with your family for different emergency conditions

  • Assemble (or refresh) your Emergency Kit 

Emergency Response

During an emergency, your priority is to get everyone to a safe location as quickly as possible.

If you are at work, make sure you know the evacuation plan and emergency exits from everywhere in the building. OSHA mandates that businesses publicize and practice these plans,  

Keep a small emergency kit at your workplace. There is no guarantee that you will be able to go back home or even to your car during an emergency to retrieve your supplies.

emergency response training

Source: Anamul Rezwan via Pexels

School Readiness

Make sure your children know what to do if they are not with you during an emergency. Be familiar with the school policies and procedures around picking up your child in case of a crisis.  

Public schools are required to focus on the development and implementation of Emergency Preparedness Plans. These explain the plans for health and safety scenarios as well as natural disasters. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, over 90% of public schools had recently drilled students and staff on emergency preparedness plans for lockdowns, evacuations, and shelter-in-place procedures.

center of educations statistics emergency action plan

Source: NCES

If your children are with a friend, relative, or babysitter during an emergency, make sure that they have the ability to text or call you. Make a plan for different scenarios, including sheltering in place, evacuating with the people they are with, or calling for help. 

Travel Preparedness

Research the emergency procedures at your destination. If you are going to an emergency shelter. Consider if they allow pets, if there is a time limit on your stay, and its capacity. 

All Red Cross emergency shelters are free, open to anyone, and handicap-accessible. You may not have one of these shelters nearby or they may become full during a widespread emergency. Make sure you have enough money in your emergency kit for a hotel room. 

Don’t allow your vehicle's gas tank to get too low. You may not have time to stop for gas during an evacuation or gas stations may run out of fuel.  

red cross emergency shelters

Source:  American Red Cross  

Keep a folder with copies of crucial paperwork in your emergency travel kit. This includes:

  • Birth certificates

  • Social security cards

  • Passports

  • Custody paperwork

  • Wills

  • Power of Attorney

  • Deeds

  • Insurance policies 

These paper copies can be crucial if you need to prove who you are or if you cannot return to your home within a few days, or if your home is destroyed. 

Developing and Implementing an Emergency Plan

The most important part of developing an emergency plan is taking action. Passive knowledge won’t keep you and your family safe in an emergency. 

The 2023 National Household Survey on Disaster Preparedness revealed that there is a long way to go in encouraging people to prepare. The results showed that receiving information about preparedness from an emergency coordinator or agency greatly increased their likelihood of taking concrete action.

Mental Health during Emergencies

According to the World Health Organization, experiencing a disaster increases the potential for anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress. 

If you are responsible for an individual with existing mental health conditions, consider pursuing Psychological First Aid training, as crises can be especially triggering for these individuals and may result in noncompliant behaviors. 

Supporting Each Other

Planning is more effective when each person feels like they are a part of the process. 

If you have already survived a serious emergency, you may experience ongoing stress, anxiety, or depression. Consider reaching out to one of the following mental health supports: 

You can protect yourself and your family by making an Emergency Action Plan and practicing it. This keeps everyone safe and effective during a disaster.