Color & Control:

How to develop a family emergency plan

Plan, Prepare, Practice:

In a blink your world can change. Suddenly, without warning you, and your family could be dealing with an emergency, a bad weather incident, a local disaster or even an evacuation that means you have to think and act quickly.

In order to keep everyone in your household safe and connected at times like this, it’s wise to have a plan in place and supplies ready to use. According to Chief Nishan Duraiappah, President of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police. “It’s important for families to plan and be ready for when things quickly change. Taking time to prepare and become aware of how you can keep your loved ones and especially vulnerable people safe has never been so important. I encourage everyone to seek and access safety resources made available by police and community groups.” 

Let’s look at the key elements of a well-thought-out plan.

Getting started
Being aware and talking with your family, friends and professionals in your support network and sharing your specific needs will reduce your risks and put you in a better position to act when necessary. 

Experts recommend making a plan together. Once it’s completed, practice it, share it with key contacts and keep it in a safe, central place in your home in a “Go Bag” ready to use. Setting a phone or calendar reminder to review things annually or when family changes occur is a wise thing to do. 

Know your escape routes and practice getting out your condo, apartment, house or senior’s residence and neighbourhood safely and quickly. Take time to check that everyone knows what to do and has a complete list of personal contacts (family, neighbours and friends) with email addresses, home, work & cell phones, addresses and any other contact details that might be helpful. Include the contact information for doctors, clinics, insurance companies, pharmacies and vets. 

Know how to stay informed by signing up for emergency situations with: Environment Canada Alert, Weather Network Alert, your local government alert systems. If you have a second home or seasonal residence do the same things for that location. Get to know and understand the risks in your region. Is the major threat fire, earthquakes, power outages, flood or wind, industrial accident, etc? Know what your local government authorities have already in place for emergencies and evacuations. In all cases selected several agreed meeting places where you can reunite should separation occur.

Being aware of basics
Difficult situations aren’t the same for everyone but we all know that the less stress there is the better chance there is of things not running amuck. Simple ideas can save time, money and frustration. Try to plan for:

• Personal needs. If you, or someone else requires assistance, accommodations, equipment and medications ensure that someone in your support network is aware and capable of assisting and communicating to others.

• Make copies of your plan and keep it in your phone, car and at work. Plus take important legal documents such as passports, licenses, marriage and birth certificates, wills, insurance policies and land deeds. These can easily be kept in a safety box at a bank or with someone in your trusted network.

• Household specifics. Be sure to customize your plans and your “Go Bag” to meet the specific needs of your household. Here are a few examples to be mindful of sharing details concerning: Ages and names of family members, languages spoken, religious, cultural and spiritual needs, medical, dietary & functional issues, healthcare equipment, prescriptions, special needs of kids, older adults, those with disabilities & pets

• Know how to “shelter-in-place.” This includes closing and locking all windows, exterior doors and the fireplace damper. Go to a room in your home without windows (such as a bathroom or closest)..

• Learn First Aid & CPR. Try and find the time to take a course through a community agency to learn how to give help to others when they are in a health crisis. You just might save a life!

Attention caregivers
The goal of your plan is to help your care recipient feel safe, loved and cared for by arming the substitute caregiver with the knowledge on how best to be a good short-term caregiver. So, in addition to other things, consider trusted others with copies of POA documents and house keys / security codes and a written daily plan of the care recipient’s routines, dietary restrictions, favourite foods, clothes, TV shows and a detailed medication schedule along with all their meds and medical records. 

Paying attention to these things in your own home and the homes of other loved ones will save you precious time and frustration when it counts. Here are a few critical ones to consider: 

• Fire extinguishers. Have several and know how to use them. 

• First Aid Kit. Everyone should know where to find it and how to use it.

• Know where the water valve and shut offs, floor drains and electrical panels are located

• Identify heat sources (gas, oil, propane, electricity) Know where they are and right beside each, write down their emergency phone #’s to call. Do not try and shut these off yourself. Call the experts and exit the house.

• Know where entrances and exits are and make sure they are not blocked with “things”

Living alone?
Consider giving your house keys or codes to a trusted family member or friend and if you have memory, communication related disabilities or physical disabilities, build those health issues into your plan. Make it easier for strangers to communicate and help you by having or pinning printed cards about your health issue.

Medical equipment and helpers can support your well-being. However, they often require electricity or batteries so you should think about how you will evacuate with those devices and also how you will replace them if they are destroyed or lost. Assume that wherever you go, you will need to bring and supply your own dietary and diabetic needs, therapeutic oxygen, special aids, rollators or canes. 

• Do you have limited or loss of eyesight? Have an extra cane ready to go. 

• Attach a whistle to the cane – sure beats yelling for help *For those with hearing issues, pack extra batteries. 

• If you undergo regularly health treatments such as chemo or dialysis, work with your hospital or clinic to help secure back-up health services. 

• Wear medical alert tags or bracelets when you leave the house 

• Consider packing disposable underwear 

• Have an extra pair of reading glasses or a photocopy of your lens prescription and an optional magnifying glass with light.

Other helpful tips that promise to make your life easier when you need it most include:

• Getting your pensions, government benefits on-line. 

• Having access to your money electronically is safe and secure and will allow you to continue to receive funds and pay bills. 

• Asking your doctor for a 2-week supply of your meds just for your Go Bag. Remember to also pack your over-the-counter drugs, and vitamins.

• Having your personal documents with you in your kit (ID, POA documents, healthcard, driver’s license, etc.)

Pets, pets, pets
Keeping pets safe and comfortable in changing times takes a bit of thinking ahead. Include pets in your emergency plan and designate a back-up person to care for them should you be unable to. Have up-to-date ID tags (with their name, your name and your phone #) and a picture of you with your pet in case you get separated. 

If needed prepare a light weight, transportable crates and cage plus a 72 hour Go Bag just for them with a collar, leash and ID as well as: 

• Canned, dry foods, treats and water.

• Bowls, toys and poop or litter bags,

• A spoon, scoop, a toy and medications.

Prepare a list of shelters or hotels that are pet friendly. Even in emergencies, not all pets are welcomed everywhere by everyone. 

Car and roadside safety
Depending on where you live and seasonal condition, its recommended that you have a summer/winter windshield washer fluid, a blanket, first aid kit, booster cables and a tool kid, a spare tire and pressure gage, a windup flashlight and road flares and winter equipment such as scrapers and shovels. You can also buy pre-packaged car kits at any car retailer, automotive club or on-line. Additional extras might go a long way to keeping you safe include a seatbelt cutter, sand or salt, a fire extinguisher, paper towels and garbage bags. Granola bars and a few bottles of drinking water, reflective umbrella and or poncho, USB jump starter/power bank (will also charge your phone). Your emergency plan with contact information should be in the glove compartment and if you’re comfortable, photocopies of your personal documents.

Ready set go
The secret to staying out of harm’s way might just be your preparedness. Timing and the ability to be resilient puts you in good stead for a safer experience. After all, practice makes perfect.  

Mary Bart is the chair of Caregiving Matters, an internet-based charity that offers education and support to family caregivers.

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