4 Steps to Create a Family Emergency Plan

Emergencies are stressful, but having a plan in place can help make them easier.
Emergencies are stressful, but having a plan in place can help make them easier.
AP Photo/Bill Kaczor

When a medical emergency strikes your household, things can go from the usual semi-hectic to complete chaos very quickly. During an emergency, the focus should be on the care of the injured person or child, and there is little time to rifle through your medical files to find phone numbers and shot records.

Yet there are critical actions and pieces of information that should be considered during this time. Here are 4 Steps to Create a Family Emergency Plan.



Talk about emergencies with your family

Use one of your "family meetings" to discuss what should happen if someone needs to go to the hospital.  This should be a calm discussion, without raising tensions or fear, but fear itself should be discussed. Children in the family should know that it's OK to be afraid and to talk about their fears. 

Even the smallest children should be involved. Use simple words, and explain that we always listen to Mommy and Daddy to stay safe. Remember, too, that the more you discuss what may happen and how to help in an emergency situation, the less frightful it can be.  The key message of this discussion, along with the guidelines below, is that everyone should:  stay calm, speak clearly and remember the plan.



Know and practice the 911 drill

Does everyone in your family know how to dial 911? If you use cell phones, do you know where the speed dial for 911 is located?

Does your family know how to make a full report once you've called 911? Here are the questions  you'll be asked when calling 911.  Can each person in your family answer these?


  • "What is the emergency?" or "What happened?"
  • "Where are you?" or "Where do you live?"
  • "Who needs help?" or "Who is with you?"

It's not a bad idea to practice this dialogue with children.  (Do this without actually calling 911!) You can create a game with smaller children: "Is it an emergency when you lose your socks?" or "Is it an emergency when you see fire?"  This can make the process clearer for children. Letting kids repeat their home phone number or name and address is a good exercise.


Give assignments for emergency situations

Do you have a phone tree plan (who calls who?) for key members of your family or work?  If there are older kids in the family, put them in charge of something simple, like contacting the dog sitter.

Do you have a plan for a baby-sitter in emergencies?  Assign someone to making that phone call. 


Is there a plan for false alarms? Make sure part of your plan includes the "reverse" phone tree when such a non-emergency is resolved. Whoever is responsible for informing people should also be responsible for updating them.

Plan for scenarios where one or more of your family members are still in school or at a job.  Do you have a meet-up point? Is someone assigned to pick up a member of your family from school?


Create a family emergency "grab 'n go" kit

When you visit an emergency room, or any physician's office, you're likely to be bombarded with questions about the patient. If you're in crisis mode, you probably won’t be at your best and may not be able to respond with details that are not part of your day-to-day "databank."

Create a family emergency "grab 'n go" kit.  This folder or packet should contain important family medical information and be placed in an accessible spot in your home.


This item is different from the disaster kits you may have heard of.  It's more like a "lockbox" or "fire safe" of medical information, made portable in the event of a visit to the ER.

Click here to read more about this kit and what it should include. 

Be prepared.  Have a plan.

Again, it's important to talk openly about what to do in case of an emergency. Make sure everyone in your family is aware of the plan and the kit.

Listen to everyone's questions and play out different "what if" scenarios. It need not be a morbid conversation, just a frank discussion.

Family members should also take courses in first-aid basics so that they are prepared to help an injured person in a way that is safe for everyone involved.

Contact the Red Cross or your local YMCA to see what courses are available for your family to take.


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