Client Login  

Preparing Your Family for an Emergency

Expect the Unexpected

During an emergency, the normal routines of life can change completely. Consider the following:

  • Food shortages at supermarkets
  • Outages of electricity and water
  • Hospitals and clinics are overwhelmed
  • Bank, post office and telephone service disruptions
  • Workplace and school closures
  • Worship services and entertainment events cancelled
  • Public transportation and travel restrictions

Thoughtful planning and good communication are key to being calm and collected when routines are disrupted.

This article addresses the following topics:

*  how to stay informed
*  a list of essentials
*  drugs that can help treat the flu
*  family members with special needs

Stay Informed & Communicate

The first rule of thumb when the unexpected happens is to get reliable information and share it with family. Plan ahead and discuss possible emergency situations and what role each person will assume to ensure that the family is informed and prepared. Try to discuss as many different scenarios as possible and think about the following when devising your communications plan:

1. Contact your local American Red Cross and county health department to find out what potential emergency situations may affect your community. The Red Cross can provide you with additional information on preparing for emergency situations and pandemic flu relief. For a list of local and national organizations, their websites and telephone numbers, click here.

2. Learn to recognize alerts in your community. Things to investigate include what the warning signals sound like, what radio and/or TV stations you should listen to and where to find the closest shelter.

3. If local phone lines are jammed, it may be easier to contact your family's point of contact(s) in other states. If you have access to the internet consider calling contacts with SKYPE - the free web-based phone service. Email may also serve as a fast, reliable way to communicate and can sometimes get through to others when phone lines cannot.

4. If you are a parent, who will assume responsibility if you cannot get to your children or college student? How will your surrogate know when to stand in for you? What information does your child's day care or school need to have in order to allow someone else to take responsibility for your child?

5. Know how your employer plans to deal with a pandemic. Are you set up to work at home? Ask about plans for an extended leave of absence.

A List of Essentials

1. When preparing for a crisis, focus on your most basic needs of food, water, and medicine. You should have sufficient supplies to support your family for at least two weeks. Store supplies in a cool, easy-to-carry container in case you have to evacuate. Check and replace any supplies past their expiration date. For a complete checklist of essentials, click here.

2. Be prepared to evacuate. Though unlikely, it is a good idea to know your city's recommended transportation routes; know how to turn off household utilities such as water, electricity, and gas; be prepared to take pets with you (ID tags on their collars); and to keep your vehicles' gas tanks at least half-full.

3. Develop an emergency contact card that each family member can carry at all times. Keep copies of your contact card at work, home and your child's school. The card should include information such as emergency meeting place(s), an emergency point of contact (family or friend) outside of your immediate neighborhood - remember to include name, address, phone number and email address - and an out-of-state emergency point of contact. Make sure you inform the people on your list that they are your family's emergency point of contact. Ensure that family members, especially children, understand that they should contact your family's point of contact to let them know their whereabouts if you are separated from one another.

Drugs that can Help Treat the Flu

During the flu pandemic, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends two anti-viral prescription drugs that may help treat the disease. Generally prescribed for those at high risk of infection, these drugs may be given on a priority basis this flu season.

Oseltamivit(Tamiflu) This drug can reduce the severity and duration of illness caused by regular seasonal flu. Tamiflu may also help limit the symptoms and reduce chances that the flu will spread, but it is not clear how effective it is against all flu viruses.

Zanamivir (Relenza) This drug is also used for treating the regular seasonal flu. It's effectiveness against all flu viruses is not known.

Accommodate Family Members with Special Needs

There may be additional items that infants and the elderly require to maintain their safety during an emergency. For infants, factor in additional supplies such as formula, and extra water - if mother is breastfeeding - as well as diapers, wipes, bottles, baby food and any medications. For the elderly, ensure that prescription medications are included in a first aid kit and that any medical devices the person relies on are available. Be prepared to move infants and the elderly to safety using car seats, wheelchairs, etc. Remember to factor in plans for pets as well. Many shelters and hotels do not allow pets so you'll need to determine where they can go in an emergency.

As stated in the beginning of this article, it is essential that families communicate with each other about what to do in an emergency and develop a safety plan. It is important to practice and maintain the plan throughout the year to ensure that it will continue to meet the needs of your family in an emergency. Identifying community and other resources ahead of time provides the best possible chance of being safe. Get to know your neighbors; become involved in the neighborhood community association, so that your neighbors know you and you them. You'll be more willing to pool your resources if the need arises. Having a sense of preparedness is more likely to keep you calm and collected in the face of danger, whatever that may be.

Web Resources:

The American Red Cross

Federal Emergency Management Agency

Center for Disease Control

Department of Health and Human Services

Montgomery County

Fairfax County

District Of Columbia

Centers For Disease Control

Some Local Phone Numbers
Virginia and Washington D.C.

Arlington County Public Health

D.C. Emergency Management Agency (24-hour)
202-727-6161; 202-727-3323 (For the hearing impaired)

Fairfax County Hotline

Fauquier County, Office of Emergency Services

FBI Headquarters Operation Center

Ft. Detrick Office of Emergency Preparedness

Loudoun County Health Department

Prince William County Emergency Services


Montgomery County 24-Hr Community Crisis Center

Local County Health Departments in MD

Anne Arundel County

Baltimore City

Baltimore County

Charles County


Howard County

Maryland State Health Department (after hours)

Montgomery County

Prince George's County

National Emergencies


National Center for Environmental Health and Emergency Preparedness (24-hour)

Poison Control Center

CHEM/BIO Hotline (National Response Center)

Written by Renée Mooneyhan
Edited by Mary Sue McClain

COPElines are published by COPE, Inc.