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Emergency Preparedness

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Make a plan

one quarter of a clock where the clock-face image is a world map and includes the phrase: out of time.

Should an emergency occur, you need to be ready to act. A thorough emergency plan will help you and loved ones take control of an emergency situation and avoid panic.

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Emergency planning basics

Make an emergency plan and give each family member a copy. This plan should tell how you will get in touch with each other should your family be separated, where you will go, and what you will do. Your children should also know about your plan. Post your family's emergency plan near a telephone and keep a copy in your disaster supplies kit. Take these steps:

  • Identify an out-of-town emergency contact that family members can get in touch with to inform about their safety and whereabouts. Keep in mind that your family may not be together in an emergency, which is why an out-of-town contact is important. Make sure every member of your family knows the emergency contact's phone number. If you have a cellphone, program this number as "ICE," which stands for "In Case of Emergency." Emergency personnel know to look for ICE should you be in an accident.
  • Pick a neighborhood meeting place and out-of-town meeting place for loved ones to meet should it be dangerous or difficult to go home.
  • Pick a room in your home where you can shelter in place. Ideally, this room will have a water supply and as few windows and doors as possible.
  • Come up with a plan to safely get out of your home or building, in case of fire or evacuation.
  • Plan for family pets. Pack pet supplies in your disaster supply kit. If you must evacuate, take your pet with you. Do not leave your pet behind. Make backup plans with loved ones or neighbors should you be unable to care for your pet.

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Emergency planning for pregnant women and new mothers

Did you know?

Breastfeeding can save lives during disasters or emergencies. Some mothers and babies are able to start breastfeeding again after weaning. Learn more about breastfeeding during emergencies.

If you are pregnant or the mother of an infant, here are some ways to prepare for an unexpected emergency:

  • If you are pregnant, ask your doctor how to prepare for an emergency birth. Many childbirth education classes also cover labor and delivery if you cannot get to a hospital or birth center.
  • Pregnant women and infants are more vulnerable to infections or toxins in the air and water. Wash your hands often and practice good hygiene. Read more about food and water safety during an emergency.
  • Take a class on infant and child CPR and first aid, such as those offered by the American Red Cross.
  • Gather infant supplies to keep with your disaster supplies kit.
  • Make sure you have a hands-free way to transport your baby should you need to evacuate. Be careful to use slings correctly. Learn how to safely carry a baby in a sling.
  • Take a breastfeeding class, even if you don't plan on breastfeeding your newborn. When an emergency occurs, breastfeeding can save lives:
    • Breastfeeding protects babies from the risks of a contaminated water supply.
    • It provides protection against respiratory illnesses and diarrhea. These diseases can be fatal in populations displaced by disaster.
  • During an emergency, breastfeed whenever your baby seems hungry. Doing so will help maintain your milk supply and also provides comfort. The release of hormones while a mother is breastfeeding is calming to both mother and baby.

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Emergency planning for people with special needs

If you or a family member has a special need or disability, you may need to take some extra steps to be ready for an emergency. Here are some things you can do:

  • Make a list of all the things you use on a daily basis and think about what you would do if they are in limited supply or not available. If possible, include a supply of must-have items, such as prescription medicines, in your disaster supply kit. Write down the model and serial number of any medical devices you use and store this information in your kit.
  • Wear a medical alert bracelet or tag.
  • Create a network of family members, neighbors, and coworkers who can be on-call to help you should an emergency arise.
  • Register with your local fire department or office of emergency services.

The chart that follows lists some extra steps to keep in mind if you or a family member has a special need:

Special needExtra emergency planning steps
Limited mobility
  • Identify somebody who can help get you to safety should you need to evacuate.
  • Consider getting an escape chair, especially if you live or work in a tall building.
Intellectual disability
  • Identify somebody to help with emergency response and evacuation to a shelter.
Non-English speaking
  • Find a neighbor or community or cultural group that can help the non-English speaker keep informed and know what to do in an emergency.
No vehicle
  • Pre-arrange for transportation, such as with a neighbor.
Medical condition
  • Know the location of more than one medical facility that offers any treatments needed, such as dialysis.
Hearing loss and deafness
  • Set up an alert system to notify you of warnings and emergencies.
Vision loss and blindness
  • Set up an alert system to notify you of warnings and emergencies.
  • Identify somebody who can lead you, as well as a service animal, to safety should you need to evacuate.
Dementia or Alzheimer's disease
  • Register the person with the Alzheimer's Association Safe Return Program.
Single parent
  • Identify somebody to help with emergency response and evacuation to a shelter.

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Food and water safety during an emergency

Food may not be safe to eat during and after an emergency. Water may not be safe to drink, clean with, or bathe in after some disasters. Hurricanes and floods can cause contamination with bacteria, sewage, agricultural or industrial waste, chemicals, and other dangerous substances. Knowing whether food is safe and how to keep food safe will prevent spoilage and loss of food and also lower the risk of illness. You also need to know how to clean pots, pans, and utensils when the clean water supply is limited. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has more information about keeping your food and water safe.

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Community emergency planning

Emergency response works best when people look out for each other and work together. Citizen Corps provides opportunities for citizens to get emergency response training, participate in community exercises, and volunteer to support local first responders.

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Content last updated: January 24, 2011.

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