Get Your Family On-Board with Disaster Preparation

Illustration of family planning for disasters

If someone in your family (other than you) is interested in disaster preparedness, turn to that person and embrace them at length, because your family is an anomaly.

Preparing for disasters is a chore. We are trying to make it as fun as possible, but it requires the prepper to do some actual work. Creating a cohesive plan and making the time to discuss it with your entire household, when you could all be doing something fun like bowling or teaching the dog how to say “mama” or scrolling on your phones in separate rooms… that’s a big ask. But you are up to the task.

You are going to get your family excited about survival.

"I'm not a regular mom. I'm a cool mom." Mean Girls GIF
I bet Regina George’s mom has a really good Stay Bag.

You just need a plan to get them on-board with your plan.

Prepare for Disasters With Your Family

Disasters are abstract, if we’ve never lived through one. The idea of a massive hurricane or a deadly earthquake is so far beyond the scope of our daily lives that it’s hard to imagine ourselves in those scenarios. Yet, imagine it we must! Preparation saves lives.

In an ideal world, your family will be fully involved with your disaster planning process.

Rule of Thumb

In a realistic world, if you are the only one excited about disaster planning, you should have an outline ready, and take their feedback if they have it.

Whether you have a plan ready to go or you ask them to help you create one from scratch, it could be a hard sell. Talking about the ways in which you could die horribly is a great way to ruin a nice weekend at home with the family. Getting them to buy in without giving them a lifetime of nightmares is a delicate balancing act.

Use these simple tips to prepare your strategy and get your family to cooperate, collaborate, and commiserate with you on your journey toward preparedness. Convincing them to call you The Master of Disaster to make it more fun is your prerogative, so do with that what you will. 

Communication is Vital

First of all, read the room. If you have a wide range of ages in your family (i.e. a toddler and a teen), you might need to have multiple preamble conversations to introduce these concepts at the appropriate levels.

Just imagining a disaster could make it difficult for your young children to focus on learning the family’s designated meeting areas or their role in your emergency communication plan. You might want to show them some media featuring different disasters first to gauge their initial reactions to these ideas. After they see the clip, show, or movie, ask them what they thought about the part featuring the disaster. If they seem like they’re ready to talk more, discuss what your family would do during a similar situation.

These initial conversations with your kids about potential catastrophes like storms, earthquakes, terrorist strikes, wars, floods, and so on are important to help you determine their level of understanding before you have a larger conversation with the entire family. When you discuss any disaster, remember to assure kids that although the possibility of a disaster is low, it is always better to have a plan than to be unprepared.

If your older children seem interested in helping you plan, give them some time to think about it. Set a date to talk with them again about their ideas, so they can be added to the plans to be discussed during the family meeting. There is no need to figure out everything on the first day.

Above all, assure them that you’re just making a plan, nothing else. Young minds can easily misunderstand, and you don’t want them stressed out about disasters from the get go.

See no stress, hear no stress, speak no stress kids; one covering eyes, another covering ears, and a third covering her mouth.
See no stress, hear no stress, speak no stress.

Overcoming Resistence

Do you have Teens(TM)? Is your life a mysterious journey through your own memories of adolescence? Do you regret the chip you had on your shoulder, now that it has been genetically transferred to your offspring?

It’s likely your teen is going to be reluctant to participate in your efforts, and they might even argue against attending a family meeting. First things first, don’t meet their anger with more anger. You are asking them for a favor, since this disaster plan is designed to save your life, as well. The entire family needs to cooperate for the plan to work.

If they have younger siblings, stress that they are an important part of helping keep the family safe, and need to know what to do if they’re at home with the kids when a disaster happens. If they don’t have siblings, stress that you may need to rely on their help during an evacuation or another emergency that requires quick action. Assigning responsibility is an important part of disaster planning, and most teens are too capable to be given a free pass. If they don’t attend the meeting, they won’t have a say in which responsibilities are assigned to them.

If they continue to refuse to participate, have the meeting as planned, and give them the materials afterward. Be sure to go over their assigned responsibilities and drills, so they’ll be prepared when you run drills with the entire group.

bratty teen
This Go Bag doesn’t match my shoes, mom. Do you even care about me?

Make Them Media Saavy

Seeing your enthusiasm for disaster planning will hopefully make your family more aware of the need to stay informed. Once your kids have access to the internet, make sure they know where to go for specific types of information about disasters (NWS, NOAA, local government websites, etc) and how to tell the difference between reliable and unreliable information.

The internet is filled with misinformation, but also packed with credible news sites such as Reuters, AP, and others. You can also refer to the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control, and other such websites; .gov websites are usually good sources for information.

If they’re on social media, make sure they follow the verified accounts: follow @WHO, @CDCgov, @NWS, @StateDept, and @DeptofDefense for press releases. Check out Twitter’s information on verified government accounts here.

Discuss Your Comprehensive Plan

When you have your family meeting, talk about the differences between specific disasters, and how you’ll need to react in each situation. Hurricanes are usually predicted a few days in advance, so your family would likely have an opportunity to discuss voluntary evacuation. On the other end of the spectrum, earthquakes can’t be predicted at all. Which disasters worry your family the most? Talking about their emotions can make it easier for them to connect those feelings to their need to buy in to the family disaster preparedness plan. Talking through the process of disaster drills will help them feel more confident when you practice drills together later.

As you assign responsibilities as a group, make sure your family is aware of all the moving parts of the plan. Even with a good set of Go Bags and a solid Stay Bag, there’s still annual maintenance to do and little things to keep track of in the heat of the moment. Talk about your family’s:

  • List of supplies, toiletries, and OTC medications.
  • Means of transport. Setting expectations and drivers is especially important in multi-car families.
  • Arrangements for ensuring pets are safe.
  • Prescription medicines and other health necessities like backup glasses.

Ask each member of your family for their ideas about what you’ll need if you have to evacuate or shelter in place. Assign responsibilities based on your kids’ maturity levels, and remember that the younger they are, the more likely they are to become overwhelmed during a crisis, even if they seem competent during the discussion.

Make sure you’re aware of the medications your family is taking regularly, so you can keep at least 10 days of each medication in your emergency kits. Whether it’s prescription strength heartburn medication for your spouse or daily OTC allergy medication for your middle schooler with sinus problems, it’s not convenient to evacuate your home and find out you don’t have them.

emergencies supplies
Get all the supplies for survival, and don’t forget some fun stuff to pass the time! (source)

Talk about Designated Meeting Places

The process of connecting disaster preparedness to places that your kids know well will likely make things seem more concrete. Talk with your family about where the best meeting places are, and how everyone would get to each one from home, school, work, or their other frequent hangouts. Have a clear plan for contacting each other to make sure you are all headed to the right location in the event of a disaster, even if the network goes down or your phone is dead.

Do you have family members who live far away, but are still part of your household, such as a child who is in college or grandparents who visit frequently? Make sure they know the disaster plans and designated meeting places as well! Putting your kids in charge of giving instructions to these additional members of the family may make it easier for them to retain the information. Teaching it to another person is a great way for both kids and adults to cement the material in their minds.

Cooperation + Collaboration = Synergy

Getting your family on-board with disaster preparedness might take some effort, but it’s well worth it! Your disaster plans will be most effective if your entire household knows the plan in advance, and has practiced what to do in a crisis. Throughout your discussions, emphasize staying calm, following the plan, cooperating, and taking instructions from designated leaders in the family to ensure you all make it through to the other side.

When you ask for input, don’t dismiss anyone’s suggestions without discussing them, even if they seem silly. Ask for explanations if you don’t understand, and give them respect to show that you see them as teammates who will be an important part of making sure your family gets through the disaster together.

Try to keep your meetings under an hour, and schedule a few if you’re not able to cover all of the material in one sitting. Follow up disaster plan meetings with treats like a trip to the ice cream shop or a round of mini golf, where you can talk more casually about how they feel about the plans you’re creating together. Taking a few months to create a good disaster plan with your family might be more productive than giving them print outs of a plan you created on your own and expecting them to know what to do when it’s time for a disaster drill. Set them up for success! You’ll be glad you did, if you ever find yourself in the worst case scenario.

family using NOAA radio together
Hooray, family synergy! The family that fawns over the NOAA radio together stays together.  

About the Author

Writer, editor, and professional joker with an environmental science background. Like most trivia nerds, she's an ardent admirer of Only Connect competitors, but more at home on the QI field.

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