Emergency preparedness: Creating a plan to prepare for emergencies

Published by: TELUS Health,

Creating an emergency plan with family and friends or for yourself if you live alone, will help you be prepared should a disaster, crisis, or other emergency strike.

Strategies for yourself or with members of your household

Consider the types of disasters that may happen from a fire to severe weather to earthquakes and other events. If you live with others, talk as a group about why it’s important to prepare for a disaster. Explain that developing an emergency plan is one way to take positive action toward being better prepared. Here are some tips:

Set up a buddy system. This will allow each person in a pair to help protect the other. If you live alone, identify a buddy or someone you would be in touch with immediately in an emergency.

Post emergency telephone numbers (fire, police, ambulance, etc.) by phones.

Ensure that mobile phones are set to receive emergency alerts. If you need help with these settings, contact your mobile phone carrier.

Discuss with everyone living in your home what to do in an evacuation. Plan how to take care of pets and each other.

Draw a floor plan of your home to determine the best escape routes and post it. Find two ways out of each room if possible.

Discuss what to do about power outages and personal injuries. You might get an extra external battery for your cell phone or for each family member’s cell phone, for example, which can double the life of a battery. Or you might talk about which hospitals or urgent care centres would be best to use or be sent to if you have a choice.

Find safe spots in your home for each type of disaster. For example, designate the room in your house that is above ground and has the fewest windows and doors as the place to use if a toxic gas leak occurs.

Be familiar with how to use the fire extinguisher. Show family members where it is and how to use it.

Take a basic class in first aid and CPR. Also assemble a first-aid supplies kit.

Pick two places to meet should you need to evacuate:

  • Right outside the home in case of a sudden emergency, such as a fire.
  • Outside the neighborhood in case yours is evacuated or a family member is at work or school and can’t return home. Everyone should know the address and phone number of the meeting place.

Ask an out-of-town relative or friend to be your family’s emergency contact. You and your family can call this person and explain where you each are. Then, if you get separated, the contact can tell each of you where the others are and where you can all meet. Also, find out if your friend or relative could house you and your family if you had to evacuate, and offer to return the favour if it’s ever needed.

Talk about how to keep in touch in a crisis. The Red Cross suggests making phone calls during off-peak hours or sending text or email messages if calls do not go through. You might talk about how to tell others you’re safe if you became separated in a crisis on such sites as

Leave at least half a tank of fuel in each car at all times. If you need to leave home fast, you won’t have to worry about where to get fuel.

Plan how you’d care for pets. If your emergency plan involves pets, make sure you have a crate or other carrier, enough pet food and water, and a copy of your pet’s vaccinations. Confirm that your meeting place or evacuation location will allow pets.

Talk with your neighbors about helping each other in an emergency. You may be able to work out a mutual plan to help care for each other’s pets or property.

Include your older relatives in your emergency plan. Whether they live at home or with you, they may face many challenges that put them at a higher risk for illness or injury in a crisis. Help your older relative stay safe in an emergency by learning about the types of crises that might occur and include them in planning for how to respond according to their current functioning.

Know the emergency plans at work, at childcare, at your child’s school and at an older relative’s nursing home. Ask about the procedures that are in place to keep your relatives safe and have them send you any documentation that detail these.

Other considerations for preparing your home

Be familiar with how and when to turn off the water, gas, and electricity in your home at the main switches. Teach each family member who is old enough how and when to turn off utilities. Keep necessary tools near gas and water shut-off valves. If you don’t know these specifics, contact your utility providers for instructions, and then place a sign near each utility with these instructions. Remember, once the gas is off, you must wait for a professional to turn it back on.

Install smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers on each level of your home. Check the batteries in smoke detectors every few months. Put this on your calendar as an automatic reminder.

Have a battery-powered radio ready. Keep spare batteries near the radio. Instruct household members to turn on the radio for emergency information.

Keep emergency supplies on hand. Also assemble a disaster supplies kit as well as a car emergency kit. Visit the Government of Canada Emergency Preparedness Guide to learn more about what to include in your supply kits and how best to maintain them.

Check to make sure you have sufficient insurance coverage. Know what the policy covers for each type of emergency.

Tips for children

When talking with a child, use age-appropriate language. Explain that having a plan makes it more likely that the family will stay together in an emergency.

Teach very young children their last names and the name of their city or town. If they get separated from your family in a crisis, this knowledge will help you and your children find each other.

Make sure everyone knows family mobile phone numbers. Enter the numbers into the contact lists on your children’s phones. Or post them in a note on the home screen.

Teach children how and when to call for help. Explain how to call 9-1-1 and leave a sample script by each phone.

Show children (and any adults needing instruction) how to send text messages from their phones. Explain that phone calls may not go through in an emergency, when lines are very busy, but that text messages may get through even if you can’t complete a phone call.

Practicing and maintaining the plan

It’s harder to think clearly when you are under stress. Practice your plan until you are confident everyone can follow it well. And practice them regularly so that everyone remembers how to use them. Here are some tips:

Replace stored water every three months and stored food every six months.

Test and recharge fire extinguishers according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Conduct fire and emergency evacuation drills every six months. Also, quiz children every six months so that they remember what to do. Keep a log of the dates of these drills.

While no emergency plan can anticipate every possible scenario, having a basic strategy outlined can help you and your family feel more capable of dealing with an emergency in case it ever becomes necessary.

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