In a perfect world, bad things wouldn’t happen at all. In this one, they happen pretty frequently, and almost never under convenient conditions. It would be ideal to be with your family every time a disaster strikes, but it’s definitely not likely.
Your household could be scattered to the ends of the earth (or across town) when it’s time to react to an emergency. Reuniting at home should be your default plan whenever that’s possible, but some emergencies will keep you from reaching your house. Setting designated meeting places will give your entire family a roadmap to safety, especially if you’re unable to make contact.
Choose Multiple Locations
Think of your designated meeting places as a flowchart: if you can’t safely shelter at the first location, go to the second, and so on. The #1 location on your list should be your family home, since it’s the ideal central rallying point in any emergency. Make sure everyone in your household is aware of which spaces in the home are designated shelter spots for various disasters (i.e. basement bathroom for tornado and nuclear attack, top floor bathroom for flood, etc).
As you prepare to choose your second location, remember that sometimes your home won’t be a safe place. Anything from broken pipes to fires to gas leaks can turn your house into Ground Zero. A nearby location is necessary!
#2: In Your Neighborhood
If you’ve already practiced a fire drill with your family, a great designated meeting place for the #2 spot on your list is the spot you chose to reunite after a fire. This is a place very close to your home and familiar to everyone, such as a trusted neighbor’s driveway or your neighborhood park. Pick a spot that everyone feels fairly comfortable being alone until the rest of the family arrives. Everyone in the household should confirm that they could find and feel safe in all of the spots you choose.
You may want to choose an additional neighborhood location further from your home, as well. Consider a spot within a 10 to 15-block radius of your home. If the streets leading directly to your home are blocked, having a nearby alternate for your #2 may be comforting for your family. If having a secondary location in your neighborhood would be too confusing, set only one nearby location.
Blocked roads are a trademark of disasters, whether they’re clogged with emergency response teams and evacuees, or impassable due to flooding, fire, and debris.
As you choose your locations, think about the ways each family member is likely to access them. Opt for spots that are easy to reach if they’re driving, biking, or walking.
#3: Outside of Your Neighborhood
The #3 designated meeting place on your list should be a spot in your town, but outside of your neighborhood. Since your options will be multiplying rapidly at this point, narrow them down by considering locations that would be relatively easy for each family member to reach from home/school/work during an emergency. If it’s possible to triangulate a spot that’s within a 30 minute walk of each of those, you’ll have an idea of your ideal area.
Also consider which natural disasters are most likely for your region. This meeting place should be on high ground, since floods are likely everywhere, but you might also want to set your location as far inland as possible, if hurricanes are common. If wildfires are common, you might want to push your location toward the main highway out of town.
The same safe space rules apply to this location, as well! This meeting place should be familiar to and trusted by everyone in your household. Popular options are libraries, community centers, elementary schools, memorable landmarks, and your usual grocery stores. A place with a spacious parking lot may be ideal if you are likely to reunite in your vehicle(s).
#4: Outside Your Town or City
The #4 spot on your list of designated meeting places should be a true evacuation location. In the event of a more severe, city- or region-wide emergency, having a safe space out of town is necessary. This should be a place where you can stay overnight, so most people choose a relative’s or family friend’s home. A spot within a 100 miles is a good idea, to make it easier to reach with limited transportation options, but the security of the location is as important as the distance. It should be a place you’re welcome to stay for a few days or more.
If you do designate someone’s home as your last resort, be sure to confirm your plans with them and get their enthusiastic consent. Your #4 spot may also be home to the person you’ve designated as your emergency contact to help your family stay on track if you get separated. Talk to your family about the different ways they could reach this spot, and discuss scenarios that might lead to this type of evacuation. Review additional trusted contacts who can help them if they’re in trouble and the #4 spot is their only safe option. It’s not likely that you’ll be unable to make contact before needing to leave town, but it is possible.
Put your designated meeting places on paper!
Are you sick of hearing it yet? Physical copies are essential to effective disaster planning. Designated meeting places should be memorized, and the best way to memorize something is to reference it often.
Don’t have time to create your own system? We made one so you don’t have to. Collect your designated meeting places in the I Will Thrive Manual, which includes additional fields for route planning and other important information. Get the Disaster Bundle to include a pack of Emergency Buddy wallet cards to carry your locations everywhere… in case memorizing information isn’t your group’s strong suit.
We’re a broken record, and we don’t care!
Seriously, make sure your designated meeting places are spots where your whole family feels comfortable. In a major disaster, your kids might end up at any of them without you, maybe for a few minutes… or maybe for a few days. The #4 location should be with people your kids know.
Keep in Mind
When picking an emergency meeting place, be mindful of which travel routes you’ll take to evacuate. Make sure your locations are accessible from home, work, school, or other frequently visited locations. Practice walking and biking to your top three locations together, in case access by car or public transit is not possible. Transportation options may be severely limited depending on the extent of the emergency.
Finally, be flexible and try to maintain contact with loved ones during the emergency. You might find that an impromptu meeting location is more convenient or safer than your designated meeting places, but only choose a new location if 100% of your household is aware of the change.