How to Create an Emergency Communication Plan

Who would you call if you didn’t have your smartphone and had to use a payphone? 867-5309? But what’s the area code? You don’t even have enough information to call Jenny. Jenny can’t help you if you can’t reach her!

If you’re an American, you probably have your own phone number memorized… and no one else’s. Calling yourself probably won’t do much good, which is a pity.

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A study suggested that 51% of Americans would be severely distressed if they lost important contact details stored on their mobile phones. Are you part of this 51%?

That’s why the first step of creating a communication plan is gathering emergency contact information. You need to create a physical list of all the contact numbers that might come in handy during a crisis.

Emergency contacts to collect

Collect these phone numbers, street addresses, and email addresses! This list is non-exhaustive, so give it a think and be sure to include any that you know you’ll need.

  • All members of your household
    • Don’t forget to note which phone numbers are landlines, as well as which ones are corded landlines. Corded traditional landlines (NOT VOIP lines through your router) work during power outages.
  • Local fire department, police station, electricity provider, hospital, and governing body.
  • Your building’s supervisor or the phone number of your HOA.
  • Your child’s daycare or school, your usual babysitters, your petsitter/dogwalker, your family’s workplaces, and other places your family spends lots of time, like friends’ homes or favorite coffee shops.
  • Your family’s insurance providers, primary doctors, and veterinarian.
  • One out-of-town contact.
    • Make sure they know you’re putting them on a list as your family’s out-of-town contact, so they know they’re an important part of your plans if there’s an emergency in your area. This should be someone who can act as a central point of contact if members of the household are not able to contact each other.
      • During emergencies, local phone lines get jammed. However, connecting with people from other cities/states is easier due to lower network congestion.

Note any special communication guidelines for deaf/mute/visually impaired members in the family. (For example, Anna, who is hard of hearing, should only be contacted via text. Whereas Robby, who has vision impairment, should be left voicemails instead of text messages.)

Rule of Thumb

Make sure everyone in your family also knows how to let the wider world know they’re safe in case they’re in the area of a disaster, but haven’t been badly affected.

Collect all of your contacts!

Our I Will Thrive Manual includes a template that makes it easy to keep all of those important names, numbers, and addresses together for easy reference during a crisis.

If you prefer to collect them on your own, make a few copies, since you’ll need the list in multiple places.

You’re doing the hard work! You’re amazing. And you’re so close to being done with your emergency communication plan! Now it’s time to get a little neurotic and plan things down to the very last detail.

Emergency communication channels

During an emergency, everyone cannot (and should not) try to call everyone else in the family. That would just create confusion.

That’s why you need emergency communication channels that will make sure the important information and status updates reach everyone. If you’re old enough to know what a phone tree is, this will be easy for you. If you are a youthful person accustomed to getting your information on a touch screen, bear with us.

An emergency communication channel gives each person in your family a responsibility to tell another specific member what’s going on.

To finalize emergency communication channels:

  • Sit down with your family.
    • Think of likely situations when one or more members of the family are home and one or more members are out. Who is usually with others? Who is usually alone?
    • Does everyone have a personal phone? Will some people need to be tried at multiple numbers to be reached?
  • Decide together what the best lines of communication are. Should one person call everyone else? Should each person call one other person? Every family is different.

Map out your emergency communication channels on paper!

As always, creating physical copies will give you the best chance of success. Our I Will Thrive Manual gives you a perfect place to keep your emergency communication plans, as well as a flow chart that will help you keep it together and communicate efficiently if your mind turns to mush due to the stress of living through a disaster. The accompanying Disaster Playbook guides you through the process of creating a comprehensive disaster plan, including everything you’ll need to communicate throughout the end times.

Rule of Thumb

You might need to customize a different process for some members of your family. For example, if your 12 year old babysits sometimes, but she becomes very anxious during a crisis unless a trusted adult is nearby, her process in the event of being unable to reach the adults by phone might be to knock on the neighbors’ doors until she gets an answer and is able to ask for help.

Create processes that everyone can easily remember and complete, even under stress.

Here’s another example of a family emergency communication plan to help get your juices flowing:

The first person to find out about the emergency calls the eldest member of the family (other than themselves). Then the oldest member calls the one younger to them and so on.

Here’s our unlucky family:

step 2 draft the plan
step 2 draft the plan

What will happen in this scenario if they follow their emergency communication plan?

Well, the kids call the oldest member, the father. He, in turn, will inform next younger person, the mother. (We tricked you a little bit, since the parents are both 45, but you had to GUESS that the dad was older. Real life tricks you all the time! You gotta stay on your toes.)

Find the best system for your household and set it in stone.

Person planning on a laptop
If there’s a big nerd in your family, enlist them as the secretary for this project. This is their time to shine.

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.

Katherine Esperanza is a Los Angeles based writer. When she's not conjuring new queer slice-of-life short stories, she's busy watching the newest films, out at queer shows, supporting queer artists, or just checking out the queer community as a whole.

A former international non-profiteer, small business owner, and co-op'er, Katherine is delighted to help introduce more leftist politics into the disaster preparedness/prepper sphere, which is currently far too right-wing.