Four Steps to Prepare Your Family for Disasters


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If there was a disaster in your area, would your family know what to do? Every family should have a plan. This 4-STEP guide developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics offers tips on how to 1) be informed, 2) make a plan, 3) build a kit, and 4) get involved.


Learn how to prepare for each disaster in your area. Visit the following Web sites: Federal Emergency Management Agency (; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (; and American Red Cross ( You can also check with your local or state emergency management office or health department.


  • Get your family involved. Hold a family meeting and talk about why it's important to have a plan. Explain things in a way your children will understand without overly alarming them. For example, tell children that a disaster is something that could hurt people or cause damage. Explain that nature sometimes provides "too much of a good thing," like fire, rain, or wind. Reassure your children that there are people who can help them during a disaster, including firefighters, police officers, paramedics, and other emergency officials.

  • Teach your children

    • How to call for help

    • When to call each emergency number

    • To call the family contact if separated

    • Where the family meeting place is

    • To keep personal identification information with them at all times

  • Know what to do in case you are not together or are separated in a disaster.

    • Choose a place to meet outside your neighborhood if you cannot go home.

    • Choose an out-of-town contact to help you update family and friends. Each family member and any caregiver must know the address for your meeting place and how to reach your contact.

    • Talk about how you will check in with each other. Options may include texting, social media (ie, Facebook or Twitter), or a Web-based application (eg, ). Talk with younger children about how they can find a trusted adult to help them. Provide each child with a waterproof identification card that contains parents' contact names and phone numbers, date of child's birth, allergies, immunizations, and last known weight (in kilograms if possible).

    • Know the disaster plans for the child care program or school your children attend. Remind your children that it's important that they follow their teachers' instructions. If you have a child who is technology dependent, make sure you and other caregivers know what to do in a power outage.

  • Know what to do if told to evacuate.

    • Leave right away if told to evacuate. Use routes suggested by officials.

    • Listen to the radio or television for instructions from local officials. Your local officials may also send out instructions on social media.

    • Consider likely hazards when selecting clothing to wear and pack (eg, extreme cold, water, or broken glass or other debris).

    • Shut off water, gas, and electricity if told to do so.

    • Leave a note telling when you left and where you are going.

    • Let your out-of-town contact know where you are going.

    • Take your family disaster supplies kit (see details in the Build a Kit section).

    • Take your pets.

    • Lock your home.

  • Know what to do if told to turn off your utilities.

    • Find the main electric fuse box, water service main, and natural gas main.

    • Learn how and when to turn off utilities, and teach family members. (If you turn off the gas, you will need a professional to turn it back on.)

    • Keep a wrench and flashlight near gas and water shutoff valves.

  • Practice and maintain your plan.

    • Every month, test your smoke alarms.

    • Every year, replace the batteries in smoke alarms. If your smoke alarm uses long-life batteries, check and replace them according to the directions.

    • Every 6 months, review the family disaster plan with family members and do escape drills. Quiz children to make sure they know what to do in different situations. Replace stored food and water frequently.


Pack the family disaster supplies kit ahead of time because once a disaster hits, you won't have time to shop or search for supplies.

Disaster supplies include the following items:

  • A note to remind you what you still need to take care of (eg, get medical equipment; charge cell phones)

  • Map of the area and important phone numbers

  • Baby supplies such as diapers, formula, baby food, and wipes

  • Three-day supply of water (one gallon per day per person)

  • Three-day supply of ready-to-eat canned or packaged food (including pet food)

  • Water purification method (eg, bleach or tablets)

  • Manual can opener

  • Paper cups, plates, and plastic eating utensils

  • Blankets or sleeping bags

  • Toiletries (eg, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, hand sanitizer) and toilet paper

Other disaster supplies that should be placed in an easy-to-carry waterproof container include

  • Crank or battery-powered radio.

  • Flashlight and extra batteries.

  • First aid kit and manual.

  • A credit card and cash.

  • Personal identification and current family identification photos.

  • Cell phone charger.

  • An extra set of car keys.

  • An extra pair of eyeglasses or contact lenses.

  • Matches in a waterproof container.

  • A change of clothing, rain gear, and sturdy shoes for each person.

  • Medicine (clearly labeled and kept separate from other supplies). Always have one refill left on prescription medicine, especially for chronic conditions such as diabetes.

Important documents

Make 2 copies and keep the originals of the following documents in a safe-deposit box or waterproof container. Consider storing these on a flash drive or online. Keep one copy on hand and give the second to your contact.

  • Wills, insurance policies, contracts, deeds, and investment information

  • Passports, social security cards, immunization records, and medical information or emergency information forms

  • Bank account numbers, credit card account numbers

  • List of valuable household goods

  • Family records and photos (eg, birth, adoption, and marriage certificates), current children's photos

  • Pet records (vaccination records and medical information)

  • List of accounts with log-in information and passwords


  • Meet with neighbors to plan how you can work together during a disaster.

    • Talk about who has special skills (eg, medical, technical, multilingual).

    • Make plans for child care in case parents cannot get home.

    • Plan for families or individuals who might need extra help (eg, those who are technology dependent or might have trouble moving around, pregnant women, breastfeeding women, families with infants or young children, elderly).

  • Volunteer to support disaster efforts in your community.

  • Be part of the community planning process or start a preparedness project.

  • Donate cash or goods to help meet the needs of your community in times of disaster.


  • Put emergency phone numbers where you can see them (eg, on the refrigerator). Program numbers into cell phones. Keep a copy of key numbers in the family disaster supplies kit.

  • Show everyone how and when to turn off utilities.

  • Make sure you have enough insurance coverage (eg, flood, fire, earthquake, wind).

  • Do a home hazard hunt for items that can move, fall, break, or cause a fire.

  • Stock at least 3 days of food and water and emergency supplies for family members and pets.

  • Make sure to write out a list of all medications, which person takes each, and dosing details. Include a supply of medicine that will last for 3 to 5 days and a copy of each prescription.

  • Take a first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) class. For more information visit or

  • Plan 2 escape routes from each room in your home.

  • Find safe places in your home to shelter for each type of disaster.

  • Fill out an emergency information form for each child, especially those with special health care needs.

For a detailed list of online resources, please visit or

Listing of resources does not imply an endorsement by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP is not responsible for the content of external resources. Information was current at the time of publication.

The information contained in this publication should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

Copyright © 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics, Updated 04/2015. All rights reserved.

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