Hurricane Sandy: Do You Have a Family Emergency Plan?

Earthquakes. Tsunamis. Hurricanes. Tornadoes. No matter where you live, a natural disaster can disrupt your family life in a matter of seconds. Are you prepared?

If you're like most families, the answer is probably no. As East Coast residents face Hurricane Sandy, many are wondering if they've done enough to prepare. One thing that's key: family emergency plan, so you have a reliable way to connect with family members should things get bad. There's still time to create one; here's what you need to know: 

Make (or buy) an emergency kit. FEMA and the American Red Cross recommend having an emergency kit on hand. The kit should contain enough water, food, medication and supplies to sustain your family for three days. Pre-packaged kits are convenient, but most aren't adequate for a family. Be sure to customize your kit based on your family's needs. Got a kid in diapers? Toss in some diapers and wipes. (And be sure to update the stash when he outgrows his present size!) Don't forget formula, bottles and nipples, if necessary. Not sure what to include? The American Red Cross has a helpful checklist.

Make a plan. Where are you going to go in case of disaster? What if you’re at work and the kids are at daycare? Who's responsible for grabbing the emergency kit? Hashing these questions out in advance -- and reviewing your plan periodically -- will help your entire family feel calm in case of emergency. Kayla Erickson, RN, BSN, a member of the Emergency Management Committee at Agnesian Healthcare in Wisconsin, recommends choosing at least two meeting places -- one local and one out-of-town. It’s fine to say that your neighbor's house is your meeting place in case of fire, but what happens if your entire neighborhood has to be evacuated?

Share your plan with your kids' sitters and schools. You might not be able to reach them in the midst of an emergency. But if you have a predetermined meeting place set up, everyone will know where to reconnect. Erickson also suggests designating at least one out-of-town friend or family member as an emergency check-in. In case of emergency, local communication networks may be down. It might be easier to reach an out-of-town relative, who can then relay information as needed. ReadyAmerica has a great online Family Emergency Planning Tool that will walk you through the creation of an emergency plan. There are also printable forms that you can fill out and keep in your wallet, with your kids, at the sitter's, etc.

Be ready. Keep gas in your car and cash in your wallet. If you're like most of us, you rely on your credit cards, ATM machines and electronic access to just about everything, including gas pumps. But in a disaster situation, odds are good that none of that stuff will work.

Back up data. These days, everything from important financial documents to photos and, yes, emergency contact information, is in digital form. Slate columnist Farhad Manjoo recommends saving everything to an external hard drive -- and backing it all up with an online service such as Mozy.
That way, you can access your data from anywhere.

Stay informed. Misinformation can spread like wildfire during a disaster. Rely on official announcements from reliable sources in times of emergency. Your community already has a plan to spread info via newspaper, radio, TV and internet if necessary. Find out the preferred channels. Dial them in. (You do have an emergency radio, right?)

Practice! Review your emergency plan as a family on a regular basis. Kids have short memories, so it's a good idea to go over the plan every few months or so. You can even use disasters elsewhere in the world as a jumping off point for discussion. Knowing that your family has a plan for emergencies can go a long way toward helping kids feel safe.

Remain calm. It's not easy to keep it together in a disaster, especially if your kids are on one side of the river and you're on another. Panicking, though, will only make things worse. If you've done your homework ahead of time, stick with the plan. It's the best chance you have for a safe reunion.

WATCH: How Do You Talk to Your Kids About Tragedy?

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