Elements of a Disaster Plan

"GOT IT" person in camo taking notes GIF
You’re gonna do great.

You made it to the home stretch! It’s time to buckle down and get specific about disaster planning.

The great thing about disaster plans is that you have your entire life to perfect them. To clarify, you shouldn’t wait until you’re retired to make them… you should make one as soon as possible so you can make them even better next year. Starting is the hardest part for most people, but it’s absolutely true that having any plan at all is better than nothing.

So, let’s talk basics! After you have a basic plan, you’ll always be finding new ideas and ways to improve your preparedness.

Preparedness involves gear, knowledge, goals, adaptability, confidence, and practice. Your Go Bags and Stay Bag will cover your gear, while your Disaster Plan will build your knowledge, goals, and adaptability. And running Disaster Drills will build your confidence through practice, of course! Creating a Disaster Plan makes it easier to react calmly and make decisions during an emergency, which are key to survival.

There are three main elements of a good Disaster Plan:

  • Assigned responsibilities
  • Procedures for likely scenarios
  • Evacuation and shelter-in-place checklists

If you haven’t already set your Designated Meeting Places and made your Emergency Communication Plan, circle back and finish those first.

Being able to reunite quickly and communicate will be key to your success in a disaster. Referring to your communication plan will help you fill out the templates below.

Old fashioned telephone
We cannot overstate how important a thorough emergency communication plan is.

Element 1: Assigned Responsibilities

Disasters come in all shapes and sizes, but they usually share a common theme: chaos. Whether you’re racing to get your house ready for a hurricane, moving your furniture to the top floor as the rivers rise, or escaping from a fire, there will always be chaos. Assigning responsibilities is a great way to focus your family’s energy and get ready efficiently. Even if your household is just one person, assigning yourself formal responsibilities during a crisis will help you make it to the other side.

A written list of tasks is your ticket to better chaos management!

Your goal is to cover all of the important tasks that can be delegated during an emergency. For a quick and dirty emergency communication plan and disaster plan, use the Family Disaster Plan from the American Red Cross. Their version covers a lot of bases, but isn’t very detailed.

For a more thorough plan, grab a copy of the Disaster Playbook and the I Will Thrive Manual, which will guide you through the entire process by breaking it down into digestible pieces. With our suggestions, you’ll be done assigning responsibilities in no time. Disaster planning is complicated because you’re basically choreographing self-rescue from a hypothetical situation: there are a lot of variables. Do whatever you need to do to make it easier on yourself so it actually gets done!

Large family at the beach
If your family is this big, you might want to assign multiple people to some responsibilities.

Element 2: Procedures for Likely Scenarios

This might feel like overkill, but thinking through what to do in emergency situations you’re likely to encounter will keep things from falling through the cracks. If you’re not sure which disasters are most likely in your area, we’ve included a map breaking it down by state. Remember, these aren’t hard and fast rules; most disasters could happen anywhere. Read more about the specific ways you can prepare for each type of disaster here.

Your emergency communication plan will be a big part of responding to disasters, so make sure everyone knows what to do in each situation. And regional disasters aren’t the only scenarios you should consider. More local emergencies like accidents, power outages, and injuries at home, school, or work are much less stressful if you plan ahead: determine your goals for each situation and the actions that will help you reach those goals. If this sounds like a lot, fear not! We help you through it in the Disaster Playbook, naturally.

While you’re customizing your plans, include as many details as you can. List your family’s specific safe meeting locations, and discuss everyone’s level of comfort with each scenario. If some things seem scarier to them than others, it’s good to talk about why they’re afraid, and what you can do to make them feel more confident if something bad does happen. Make sure your list of trusted emergency contacts has people everyone in your family is comfortable contacting if they need help.

Make sure your plans include all of your family members and your pets. More people means more moving parts, and planning ahead will help make sure no one gets left behind.

Rule of Thumb

Don’t be the person who says, “Oh, I’d never forget one of my babies,” and then has to scream, “KEVIN!” in the middle of an airport. Plan ahead.

Element 3: Evacuation and Shelter-in-Place Checklists

Your family will feel more confident with a personalized checklist to help everyone stay on task. For both evacuation and sheltering in place, create a few copies of a single checklist, or make a checklist for every member of your family, based on their assigned responsibilities. List the additional items you’d like to take during an evacuation if you have extra time to pack!

Our Disaster Bundle includes two copies dedicated to evacuation: the Grab and Go Checklist displays your 30 second, 5 minute, and 1 hour evacuation plans in style, so you’ll never be caught off guard.

Put It All Together

Completing any of these elements will make you more prepared for a disaster, but completing all three will help keep your family confident and calm during even the worst case scenarios. As you create your disaster plans, make a note of any supplies you’ve specified in your scenarios. If you will need a USB minifridge + power bank to keep your medication cold in the event of an extended power outage, or a specialized carrier for your disabled dog to evacuate effectively, those will be important personalizations to your Stay Bag and Go Bag, respectively.

Speaking of Go Bags, now’s the perfect time to create yours!

Six people looking at a laptop and planning
You did it! You prepared your family for a disaster AND you got to spend time with your one, true love: spreadsheets. Go on and celebrate, ya big nerds! <3

About the Authors

It takes a village! We are researching, writing and fact checking as a family. Collaboration is the name of the game, whether we’re running from a zombie horde or finding the best way to turn a complex concept into a deliciously digestible set of bullet points.

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.