Planning Family Emergency Communications

emergency communications can be via CB radio

Even an old CB radio can be useful for emergency communications

A key part of home emergency preparedness is emergency communications. Unless bad weather (accurately predicted ahead of time) is the problem, you and your family might not be together when the emergency strikes. How will you know they’re OK?

In this post, we’re going to talk about a Family Emergency Communications Plan. You and your family will create something like a phone tree with essential contact information to have handy should the need ever arise.

As much as you’d like to rely on technology, the truth is it may not be available during an emergency. So while you are thinking about who you need to be able to contact, also think about how you would communicate if the internet and cell phones were not reliable. If you happen to have amateur (or HAM) radio skills and equipment – or even old CB radio gear –  these can be a way to communicate when the standard networks are not available.

Making a Plan

Yes, this is a lot to think about and organize. Don’t be discouraged. All this information is available to you and you can decide for your own situation what is crucial to have handy and what you don’t need. Just because it is on the list does not mean you have to “check off the box”. Just think about it and decide for yourself whether it makes sense for you.

  1. Decide who should be involved in the plan.
    This means who is in your immediate family circle. But it also means what resources you want to be able to reach in an emergency.
    Should you include out-of-the-area family members and friends? Maybe yes if they could be helpful or would be worried. But maybe not in the top level of critical contacts.
    You should include, as makes sense for your situation, local emergency personnel, healthcare professionals, including pharmacy, work and school numbers for each family member.
  2. Develop levels based on the type of emergency.
    If there were a strong storm, for instance, and you were separated from your family but not for very long, you might not need to do anything more than establish that all family members are OK.
    A longer-lasting emergency might have you diving deeper into your plan for more resources.
  3. Assemble contact information for everyone
    For each member of your immediate family circle, be sure you have telephone numbers, email addresses and work addresses. Don’t forget to include physical addresses where each family member might be on a typical work or school day.
  4. Select TWO neighborhood meeting places
    These should be easily accessible to family and friends. Assign one as primary and the other as backup.  If the primary location is unavailable, you should all meet at the backup location.
  5. Set a reasonable timeframe
    Waiting for someone is hard. Decide in advance how long is reasonable to wait. The time might be different for different types of emergency. Remember to allow for bad weather, traffic and detours.
    Why is setting a time to wait important? Because those of you who have made it to the meeting location may need to take other action – like finding shelter. The greater good may demand that some of you move on instead of waiting indefinitely, much as you want to wait.
  6. Select TWO regional meeting places
    Just like your neighborhood meeting places, one should be primary, the other a backup. Think about which meeting place you would go to in which types of emergencies. Decide how long to wait for stragglers.
  7. Know your local evacuation location
    This may be a county shelter or some other public building your community has designated for emergency shelter in case an evacuation is required. Know how to get there from at least two routes. Set a place to meet outside/inside so if you are part of an evacuation order, you can meet up with your family circle again.
  8. Develop a check-in protocol
    This might be as easy as deciding which meeting place to use under what conditions and how long to wait at each place before moving on. It might include identification codes to use among your family to assure that the message you hear over the radio or phone is truly from your family circle member and they are not in personal danger.
  9. Go over the plan
    Print and distribute your plan to your immediate family circle. Go over it with them so everyone understands the plan and how to use it. If you have out-of-the-area family and friends included in some part of the plan, be sure they know about the plan and how they fit into it.

Practicing Your Plan

It isn’t enough to have an emergency communications plan. You’ll need to practice under different conditions.

For instance, travel to your meeting places during bad weather. Do it from home, work, school, the local grocer, etc. at different times during the day, including weekends. Write down how long it takes to get there. Map out routes to get to each meeting place during different conditions. Stick to main roads if possible, even if it will take a little longer. Back roads might quickly become impassable in some types of emergency.

Make sure cell phone chargers are in every car all the time. If you don’t have them, go get them. Even if you can’t make phone calls, you’ll probably be able to send text messages since texts use less bandwidth. And even if service isn’t immediately available, the text will be saved and sent once it is back. Make sure everyone knows how to text.

Also practice how to use that CB radio gear or your HAM radio because the cell networks might not come back soon enough.


Creating a Family Communications Plan can be overwhelming, but here are some helpful resources.

  1. FEMA
  2. CDC
  3. Homeland Security

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Other emergency preparedness posts you may enjoy:

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About Bret Smith

I am a long-time lover of all things outdoors. Whether hunting, shooting, fishing or just hiking and camping, I take every opportunity to enjoy nature and share it with others.

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