How to prepare your family to survive and thrive in todays uncertain world

Disaster Plans and Decision Making

Today I want to touch on a few higher level preparedness concepts that I haven’t really talked about before. They’re all around planning ahead of time.

Planning ahead of time is critical because when you’re under stress you won’t be able to think straight. Even if you have time to sit down and consider the situation, your brain just won’t work right if you’re under any significant kind of stress.

It’s critical to have some of those basic decisions and plans already made. You can certainly change them, but having a place to start helps tremendously.

Do We Stay or Do We Go?

A key decision point to make for any decision is whether you stay (bug in) or go (bug out) of wherever you happen to be.

Rudy’s Note: The last part is an important distinction, because too many people focus on plans at home, and not wherever they happen to be.

To expand on that a bit, you MUST have plans and decisions made based on places you commonly go, such as work or school, as well as a set of ‘go-to plans’ for when you’re somewhere you don’t have specific plans for.

The basic guidance is pretty simple here. The question you have to answer is:

Will we be safer if we leave, or will we be safer if we stay?

Once you answer that question, your decision should be pretty clear.

Emergency Action Plan

Possibly the most important plan to have is one that covers what to do if you don’t have time to think. This is the ‘smoke detector at 3am, we gotta get out NOW‘ plan.

And I do mean get out now.

You should plan on being able to go from zero to done on this plan within 60-90 seconds of starting. Clearly this isn’t much time to think, so you MUST have a plan in place for this that is completely generic. Not much adaptation is possible with this little time to react.

Drilling on this plan is pretty darn important. You absolutely HAVE to practice this until it becomes instinctual. And your kids have to know what to do at the drop of the hat as well. And don’t forget to run a drill in the middle of the night once in a while.

Urgent Action Plan

An extension of your Emergency Action Plan, the Urgent Action Plan incorporates the steps from your EAP, but without quite as much urgency. You have time to think, get more stuff together, and be more deliberate about your actions.

With the EAP, you’re getting out of the house with whatever you have on and you can grab on the way out.  This is when you have a few more minutes and you can grab a couple changes of clothes, a pre-positioned bag that already has clothes, etc, or some irreplaceable items.

This is NOT a plan where you can grab everything you need.  You may not have to get out RIGHT NOW but you have to get out PRETTY DARN QUICK.

It’s the ‘An F5 Tornado was spotted a couple miles away and it’s headed right for us‘ plan. Plan on having about five minutes to act on this plan.

Time To Go Plan

This plan is what you jump on if you make the decision to bug out of your location. You should actually have multiple sections of this plan based on how much time you have before you need to beat feet.

Depending on time frame, this plan will include getting your vehicle ready, securing important documents, irreplaceable items, more clothes, and securing your home. How much of each you can do will be driven completely by how much time you have.

You should have a checklist for each time frame, and even better would be to have multiple checklists, so you can give your son Joshua the ‘one hour check the car’ checklist and daughter Elizabeth the ‘six hour get clothes and bedding’ checklist, while you and your wife cover other stuff.

Rudy’s Note: No, it’s not a violation of child labor laws to expect your kids to participate in executing your plan. In fact, I think you’re foolish if you don’t. Even simply having older kids keeping younger kids occupied and happy helps.

Never Mind, Let’s Stay Plan

This plan is what to do when you decide to stay home. Maybe you don’t have time to evacuate the area before danger strikes, or your immediate area will be unaffected.

Again, you should have checklists to go down, in order of priority. For consistency’s sake, I like using the same time frames as the ‘Time To Go Plan’ … it helps, trust me.

For this plan you may have things like securing the house, distributing alternative communication methods, moving important items to a safe area in the house, etc.

Once again, be sure to keep your kids in the loop here. Keeping them busy will help against the inevitable panic.

Men, This One Is For You

Guys, I can’t understate the importance of being the rock in an emergency situation. If you remain calm and collected, at least as much as possible, your family will feel more secure.

You MUST be decisive as well. Emergencies are no time to be messing around waffling about trying to make a decision. Observe, Orient, Decide, Act … then rinse and repeat.

Sometimes that decision will involve forcing people to do what they don’t want to. Maybe your kid doesn’t want to leave their favorite stuffed animals but the situation dictates that they do. Or maybe your wife doesn’t agree with your decision to leave. In an emergency, your word is law, period.

I know it may sound misogynistic to some, but while I believe that a marriage is an equal partnership, I also believe that we as men are designed (by God or by nature, whatever your belief structure is) to be that decisive actor or benevolent dictator in an emergency.

On the flip side, that doesn’t mean you should lord it over someone else in your family. If you do that, you deserve the ass kicking that’s coming your way… Reserve the veto pen for true emergencies.

Ladies, Here’s Your Turn

Speaking as a guy who is an imperfect husband, most men have a natural tendency to take things to a bit of an extreme. You are a tempering agent for this. Make sure that your spouse is being realistic.

My beloved wife will regularly bring me back to reality when I go off into la-la land about something or other. I honestly don’t know what I’d do without her being there to do that for me.

To keep this relevant to the topic at hand, if you don’t create these plans and make these decisions together, make sure you review them and agree with them.

I guarantee that your priorities and your husbands priorities will not match, especially when it comes to those irreplaceable items and memories. If you don’t review and agree to what those priorities are ahead of time, this will be an instant and serious problem as soon as you have to execute the plan. And that’s NOT the time to be having a major argument about those priorities.

Rudy’s Note: Guys, since I know you’re reading this too, just because this is in the Ladies section does NOT absolve you from responsibility. The planning phase is not the time to be dictatorial.

Men and women are wired differently, and they think differently.  So include your wife. She WILL see things you don’t. I guarantee it. Respect her opinions and insights.  Period. End of story.

Ignore this advice at your own peril.

Wrapping Up

Well, this got alot longer than I intended. I plan to elaborate on some of these ideas with some concrete actions you can take soon. Please let me know in the comments or via email if there’s anything you’d like to hear more about in particular.

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7 Responses to Disaster Plans and Decision Making

  1. I agree that drilling and review are paramount. Don’t forget about basic physical fitness too. Being fit to begin with helps to alleviate some of the stress caused by immediate action.

  2. Thank you for this Rudy. My wife and I were just discussing this very thing, coming up with a plan or plans and practicing. Your article also opened my eyes to the fact that plans need to be made for wherever one might be. For example, we work summers in Wyoming and need to have an EAP for out there too in the event TSHTF while we are away from home. We are better prepared at home which is the place I prefer to be if things go to hell. I have read and agree that it is better to stay rather than go if one’s home is defensible. For many years we lived aboard our boat. The same principle applied there. The last thing you want to do is abandon ship and jump in the life raft. I always tell fellow sailors, “Stay with the boat as long as you can. You want to step UP into your raft.”

  3. Think “crawl, walk, run”… Start small and build up from there.

    At the “crawl” stage, general awareness that something needs to be planned is what you are aiming for. In the emergency management field we call this the seminar and/or workshop stage.

    At the “walk” stage, aim for a “drill”. Think of a drill as a “response” or “action” to a specific incident. You are testing your skills against your identified problem. In this case, the drill could be rounding up the items on the checklists that Rudy used as his example.

    At the “run” stage you are having an exercise. You could think of an exercise as something that involves several “drills” happening at the same time. Following up on Rudy’s checklist example, your exercise would be to have the kids round up the items on the checklist, load them into the vehicle and then move the whole family to the relocation point. Some people call this the “dry run”… Call it whatever you want, but remember that it is an exercise…

    Some people will be staring at the “run” or exercise phase, while others will need help trying to figure out what their “crawl” stage should be about… It doesn’t really matter what stage you begin at as long follow through and complete the exercise.

    After the exercise, you must identify your areas in need of improvement. What problems did you have? How could this have been accomplished better or easier? Did you find you had repetitive steps?

    Once you find your areas that need improvement, you need to develop your improvement plan. Your plan could be as simple as adding a couple of items to a checklist or as detailed as planning alternative routes to a relocation based upon the type of disaster you may expect. Either way, YOU HAVE TO COMPLETE THE PLAN… Your drills and exercises will be nothing more than some sort of an orientation function if you never improve…

  4. It’s always prudent to have a plan and to examine every possible scenario. It’s also a good idea to switch roles occasionally and get used to what the other spouse does or would do in the event that said spouse is injured or unavailable.

    Final decision making should never rest upon the shoulders of one spouse.

  5. I live in northern Alabama. It’s so discouraging to see, with the tornado aftermath, that the only lesson most people have learned is how to trade one crutch (electricity) for another (gas generators).

  6. I think it would be fair to say that the family member who feels best able to take charge of the situation, should.

    While most men and women fall neatly into your stereotypes, you have failed to account for nontraditional families. I am speaking not only about same sex partners, but also families where a grandparent, aunt/uncle, or older sibling is responsible for the decision-making (ex. if anything happened to my parents, I would share responsibility for my youngest sister with my husband and my uncle).

    Should single mothers hand over control of the situation to a friendly male neighbor? Should a gay couple seek out a friend of the opposite gender to play the “male” or “female” role in their disaster plan? I know it would make me less secure in my decision-making to feel like I NEED somebody of the opposite gender to carry out my plans. My husband looks to me in stressful situations, should I tell him to cut it out?

  7. Mary, I think your first sentence says it all. The family member who feels best able to take charge of the situation, should – however, if possible, that should be determined BEFORE anything happens. If your husband looks to you, let him, but make sure he acts calm and in control of himself (you too) in front of the kids. I’m new to this preparing stuff, but NOT to taking charge in an emergency! :)