One of the hardest parts of planning for a natural disaster is that you rarely know when one is going to happen ahead of time. Unfortunately, disasters are almost inevitable. Staying vigilant and prepared is the first step in avoiding unnecessary losses or damages. Knowing what to do in these situations can go a long way toward keeping you and your family safe, especially in situations that might otherwise cause panic. The US Federal Emergency Management Agency has prepared a family emergency plan that is very helpful. FEMA asks the question, “What if?” to emphasize the importance of creating a disaster meetup plan.

“What if something happens and I’m not with my family? Will I be able to reach them? How will I know they are safe? How can I let them know I’m OK? During a disaster, you will need to send and receive information from your family.”

Why Meetup Plans are Necessary

A meetup plan is a response method following a disaster that allows families and friends to find each other if they are separated. Meetups are necessary after all disasters, including earthquakes, wildfires and tornadoes, though during a tornado you may not leave the home, but you’ll still need to have a plan and way to communicate with family members in other states.

Have you ever been to a large gathering of people like a concert and noticed that your cell phone isn’t working too well? That’s because when a lot of people are on their phones in a small area at the same time it overloads the cell towers. The same thing can happen in the event of a disaster including many other things that can impede communication with your family. That’s why it’s important to have plans in place for emergency situations away from home.

Planning ahead goes a long way and guarantees that you will be in touch with your loved ones if a disaster occurs. If you live in the San Francisco bay area, a mobile app named SF72 will connect you with others during an emergency to provides relief, and find friends, family, or shelter. But other tools and apps are available to residents in the rest of the country, including emergency alert apps and messenger services that you can use if cellular connection is down.

Where Should You Meetup?

Your meetup location is an important variable. You want a location the family can access from wherever they may be at the time, and a location that won’t be impeded by the disaster. A few factors to consider:

  • Can you find the location easily, day or night
  • Do you have multiple options in case one can’t be accessed?
  • Does your place have a high likelihood of being impacted by a disaster?
  • If a disaster occurs that forces you to stay away from your home, do you know where to find shelter?
  • Do you know the emergency protocol for places that you frequent, like work, school, church, and others?

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All About the Details

Evacuations usually happen quickly, sometimes in less than ten minutes, so be prepared to grab supplies and necessities at a moment’s notice. This process can be shortened by creating an emergency survival kit long before an event ever occurs. We’ve put together a content piece that covers the process, but include the details below in your plan:

  • Have an NOAA weather radio.
  • Have cash, $50 is the suggested minimum.
  • Have inventory of your personal belongings.
  • Remember to include pets in the meetup plan
  • Plan for family members and older adults who have disabilities.
  • Be familiar with your insurance plan and the coverage it provides.
  • Gather personal supplies well in advance so everything is prepared.
  • Communicated efficiently with the each family member on your plan.
  • Make sure house numbers are visible from the street so rescuers can get to you if help is needed.
  • Teach younger kids how to dial 911 and when the appropriate times to do so are. Make sure they are well-versed in how to handle an emergency if parents aren’t around or kids aren’t at home.
  • Contact information at every touchpoint: cellphones, wallets, vehicles, computers, and backups of the information.
  • Have a person out of state that can serve as another contact in case you are separated from family and can’t reach them.
  • Have two ways to escape rooms and have the essential supplies available, like first aid kits, disaster kit and other essentials you’ll need to evacuate.

How to Make the Meetup Happen

Sit with the family to discuss the importance of a meetup plan. At this meeting the family can discuss any variables that could affect the plan, and address any concerns or preferences of the details. Here you can decide where to meet and include all parties that may be involved, like relatives, older members of the family, babysitters and caregivers who frequent the home, and animals. Remember that many emergency shelters don’t allow pets.

Learn the system that you’ll employ during the emergency and practice it. Run through situations like it’s real life, and make sure to practice at least once a year.

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Cover all the Moving Parts

When disaster strikes, there are a number of moving parts. Take care of as many of them beforehand and response will be less stressful and more efficient. You’ve already handled the meetup plan, and a number of variables, so what’s next?

Upload Personal Documents

Personal documents like driver’s licenses, passports, birth certificates and others can be saved in the cloud or via email, so you can still access them even if you aren’t at home when a disaster occurs. Through AirBnB and other rental systems, you can find quick housing if necessary.

Build a Community

If you have a community of individuals to go to during an event, you won’t feel alone or helpless in your response. This is especially useful for those that may not have family in their city. Build a community with neighbors, friends, and others. Apps like NextDoor allow you to connect with neighbors and build networks.

Send Text Messages

Texts may go through even if calls do not. This is because they take less bandwidth and may save for later sending. Utilize them if calls aren’t working.

Use Social Media for Comfort

Social media and your phone can help you feel like you aren’t alone during an event, so reach out and communicate with other people. Let them know you’re safe, how you feel, and what’s next for you.

Follow Emergency Accounts on Social Media

Follow emergency accounts on social media or use the tools to let people know that you are safe. Facebook has a “check-in” feature that happens during natural disasters and other events so people can inform their friends.

Seek Shelter at Community-Centered Locations

Churches, shelters, and other places in the community are the best go to’s for shelter. Check in with them. Have information for local Red Cross and other disaster preparedness organizations in your emergency contact kit.

Create your meetup plan today, and share with friends and family.

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