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How to create a family earthquake emergency plan

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Hello! My name is Ada Tseng, and I work on the facilities journalism team at the LA Times. Welcome to Week 5 of Unshaken, our newsletter guide to earthquake preparedness and resilience. We break disaster preparedness into easy-to-understand to-do lists so you can prepare without feeling stressed.

We’re now in the extended phase of this six-week course, and it’s time to talk about your family plan.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, less than half of Americans have practiced what they should do in the event of a natural disaster, and less than 40% have developed or discussed an emergency plan with their families.

Let’s raise these numbers.

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Here’s the thing: If the earthquake strikes early in the morning, at night, or on the weekend, you may be with your family. But it’s also possible that you two are apart – at work, school, football playing, date night, commuting – and you’ll need to get back together.

What is your calling plan if you lose your mobile phone and internet service? Where is your meeting place? These are the questions you need to answer for your family plan.

Learn how to communicate

Text, don’t call. Since phone service, internet, and electricity can be disrupted, texting may be the way to go before cell phone towers run out of power in an emergency. Texting requires less bandwidth, and the message can also be saved and sent immediately when the service is available again.

Know the important numbers. Keep important phone numbers – for all family members, doctors, vet, neighbors and others you may need to call in an emergency – in each family member’s mobile phone. Also, make sure everyone has memorized key numbers, such as those of parents, children, and emergency contacts.

For good measure, make hard copies of important phone numbers and email addresses, including those of family members, friends, neighbors, medical providers, schools, emergency service providers, utilities, and insurance companies. Make sure everyone has a copy in their purse or backpack, and post it somewhere easily accessible in your home — like the fridge or a bulletin board.

Create a group list of everyone you want to communicate with in the event of an earthquake.

Cellular service can be off. Do you have important numbers written down or memorized?

(Daniel Solzberg/For The Times)

Choose a leader. Talk about who will be the person responsible for sending information during the earthquake, and designate an out-of-state contact person that everyone can contact. Local phone lines can be restricted due to call volume. Remote lines may be more free, so a contact outside the state will be able to transmit messages.

Have a backup plan. Find out if there are pay phones nearby, or make other backup communication plans—like relying on a neighbor who has a land line if you don’t—in case you don’t get text messages.

Consider your family’s unique needs. When it comes to making plans, you can use FEMA’s family emergency communications plan or other forms as a guide. But while templates and general advice about earthquake safety can guide you, the real work comes from figuring out what type of plan will best suit your family and your needs.

What are the ages and limits of your family? Is there anyone with a disability that you need to think about? What characteristics of your home make it more or less susceptible to vibration?

Agenda item: Start memorizing important phone numbers, and enter them into everyone’s cellphones. Discuss communication plans with your family. Make hard copies. Customize to your own needs.

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Select a meeting place

Choose a safe place outside your home for everyone to meet after the shaking stops. This could be a garden or a school field.

After an earthquake, you may not have the Internet to look up maps and directions. Pre-download your city maps for offline access, buy paper maps and make sure everyone knows how to read them, or just make sure everyone knows their way to the meeting place – plus alternate routes as a backup.

Agenda item: Determine a place for the meeting. Download maps for use when no internet is available. Buy and show your family paper maps and routes to the meeting place and other important locations.

Get the kids involved

You’ve already assembled your earthquake kit with baby supplies, including comfort items, medication, formula, and diapers. Here’s what you should also do.

Talk to your children. Talk to your children about earthquakes and use age-appropriate language. If you have young children, there are many cartoon and kid-friendly videos about preparing for earthquakes that you can show them. Explain it calmly so that they are not afraid.

Teach your children. Practice earthquake drills – how to find a safe place, drop it, cover it and hold on to it – as a family. Help children memorize contact numbers and teach them how and when to call 9-1-1.

Practice using your devices.

(Daniel Solzberg/For The Times)

Ask around you. Ask your child’s school or daycare about their contingency plans, and talk to your child’s friends’ neighbors and parents about their contingency plans.

Don’t forget your pets. Think of different scenarios and what your pet needs to be safe. During earthquakes, pets may need to be secured with leashes or carriers until they calm down.

A few basics: a microchip, licensing your pets, and adding tags and contact information to their collars. Prepare the carrier if necessary. And from your job back in the first week, you’ve already got your emergency bag, emergency contact numbers, supplies, and medical records in your earthquake kit – right?

Agenda item: Teach your kids to fall, cover, and stop, and give them other age-appropriate information. Be sure to consider your pets in your plans. Talk to your neighbors and parents of your children’s friends about your earthquake plans.

Hold a family meeting to review

What are your evacuation and reunification plans? Think about what you would like to do in different scenarios, and the steps you would take toward safety and normalcy – hours, days, weeks after the earthquake.

Make sure everyone can locate safe places under sturdy tables or desks in the home; He knows how to shut off water, electricity and gas lines. knows the meeting place; He understands that they may have camped out in the courtyard for a while to be safe from aftershock damage.

Then set a schedule to review and update your family plan regularly. It runs every six months. We will remind you too.

As seismologist Lucy Jones says, people are the most important part of being prepared.

Agenda item: Hold your first family meeting to review your plans, and set a schedule to discuss them regularly.

Find the next installment of Unshaken, the LA Times Newsletter’s Guide to Earthquake Preparedness and Resilience, in your inbox Friday. Your final task will be to assess your financial and insurance needs. We will guide you through it. see you later. (Times subscribers can access the full course here.)

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