Lost and Found: Reuniting with Loved Ones in an EmergencyPosted on by
More than a collection of names, phone numbers, and street addresses, an Emergency Action Plan is an instruction manual for how to stay healthy, stay informed, and stay connected in an emergency.
It’s important that everyone in your household know how to inform family, friends, and caregivers of their well-being and whereabouts when a disaster strikes. Cellphones, the internet, and social media play a key role in staying connected. In an emergency, text messaging and online platforms, like the American Red Cross’ Safe and Well website and Facebook’s Safety Check feature, can be used to let loved ones know you are safe.
But what if the people you want to reunite with don’t have cellphones, social media, or even thumbs? If you’re a parent, a family caregiver, or a pet owner, your Emergency Action Plan should also account for vulnerable populations, such as children, older adults, and pets.
Reuniting with Children
It’s back-to-school time for many kids this month. An estimated 69 million children in the United States are in school or child care on any given weekday.
Educators and child care providers play an important role in helping children stay safe before, during, and after emergencies. Because emergencies can happen at any time during the school day, schools and childcare facilities hold drills to help students and staff practice staying safe in the event of an emergency.
- Every school and child care center should have a written emergency plan. Ask your child’s school or child care center for a copy of their emergency communication and family reunification plans.
- Make sure your child’s school or child care center knows how to reach you, and who should be called if your phone isn’t working.
- Send your child to school or child care center with an updated Ready Wrigley Backpack Emergency Card.
- Provide your child’s school with any personal needs and prescriptions, such as an asthma inhaler, that your child might need.
Because emergencies can increase the possibility of children being separated from their parents or legal guardians, talk to your kids about your reunification plans. Involve them in the development of these plans and talk with them about what they think are ways they could be reunified with family members if they become separated from them in an emergency.
Children aren’t the only ones who need to be considered in our emergency reunification plans. We also need to plan for the possibility that older adults can become separated from their families and caregivers in an emergency situations.
Reuniting with Older Adults
Older adults may experience challenges that come with advanced age, such as hearing or vision problems or cognitive impairment, which may make it difficult to access, understand, and respond to emergency instructions.
Make an emergency plan for the older adults in your family starting with the action points below.
- Involve family members and caregivers in creating an emergency plan that—among other things—identifies a contact person, such as a neighbor, who will check on you during a disaster.
- Create a support network of family, friends and others who can check on and assist older adult family members during an emergency and share your disaster plans with them.
- Find out if your local, 911 dispatch supports the Smart911 registration service. If not, notify your local police and fire department of your older adult family members’ location and special needs so that they are able to prioritize and assist them in an emergency.
Here are some additional resources for reuniting with elderly family members during an emergency.
- Disaster Planning Tips for Older Adults and their Families (CDC Healthy Aging Program)
- Preparedness Resources for Individuals, Families, and Caregivers (Administration on Aging)
- Prepare For Emergencies Now: Information For Older Americans (Federal Emergency Management Agency)
In additional to children and older adults, pets can also find themselves lost and separated from their owners during an emergency.
Reuniting with Pets
Pets are family too. We often depend on our animal friends as much as they depend on us. So, reuniting with your pets can be just as important as reuniting with people. Pet owners are often unable to evacuate with their animals or are unable to return to their pets if they become separated from them during the workday. Know where you can take your pet if you need to evacuate your home. Make sure you have your neighbor’s information and ways they can check on your pet, if you cannot return home.
Microchipping is one of the best ways to improve your odds of reuniting with your pet after an emergency, but only if you keep your registration up-to-date. The American Veterinary Medical Association has designated August 15 as National Check the Chip Day as a reminder for pet owners to check and update their pets’ microchip information.
In addition to microchipping, here are some other steps that you can take to be reunited with pets that you’ve become separated from in an emergency.
- Take a selfie with your pet(s).
- Make sure your pet(s) wear collars and tags with up-to-date contact information and other identification.
- Keep your pets close. Keep your pets on a leash or in a carrier. Write your pet’s name, your name, and contact information on each carrier in case you get separated.
For more information, recommendations, and tips on how to Prepare Your Health for a natural disaster or emergency, please visit www.cdc.gov/prepyourhealth.
Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that the CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.
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