Family Communication Plan

Your family may be separated when an emergency develops in your area. How will you communicate if cell service is affected in any way? Make a family communication plan now to ensure that your family will be prepared and know what to do.

Emergency Planning
Important Phone Numbers & Making Assignments

Phone Numbers

Besides storing each of these numbers in each family member’s cell phone, there should be a physical list of the following numbers. This written list can be tucked neatly in a wallet and children’s backpacks for safekeeping.

  • ice contact (for first responders)
  • local primary & secondary contacts
  • out of state contact
  • family members
  • friends
  • work and school
  • emergency services
  • local non-emergency for police
  • teach kids when to call 911

Family Contact Assignments

Primary and secondary local contacts

This could be both parents or any two adults in the family. If disaster strikes and any family member is not home, agree that they will check in with the primary local contact. If that doesn’t work, move on to the secondary. If local calls are not possible at all, move on to your out-of-state contact.

Out-of-state contact

After a disaster, it may be easier to make a long-distance phone call than it is a local call. For this reason, an out-of-state contact, family, or friend, is chosen to receive safety check-in phone calls from your family. Teach your family that if local calling is not possible, and they are away from home when a disaster strikes, to call this person. This out-of-state contact’s job is to make sure all family members check in and are accounted for and share this information with the rest. Of course, this person should agree to be your contact ahead of time.

Emergency Planning
Communicating during an emergency

During an emergency, how will your family communicate with each other? When the cell phone system works, it’s easy. But what will you do if cell service is down and not all family members are home? Preparing for both scenarios covers the bases.

When Cell Service is Working

Here are some ways you can use your cell phone to communicate with your family or emergency response workers if calling them directly does not work but your phone has other working functions.

Call out of state contact
  • If your cell phone does not work locally, it may be able to call out of state.
  • This is the time you want to check in with your out of state contact and let them know your situation.
Social Media
  • Update your status on your various social media pages to let your friends and family know where you are.
  • After you reach a safe location, post your location, and try to coordinate a meeting spot with loved ones.
Text SHELTER to 43362
  • You can text SHELTER and the zip code of your location to 43362 to see what locations near you offer shelter in times of emergencies, such as schools and faith-based organizations.
  • Texting can be more efficient than calling during an emergency as the message will continuously retry sending until it is received.
Location Services
  • Ensure that your phone’s emergency location service (ELS) is turned on.
  • Dialing an emergency number while ELS is turned on will automatically send its location to emergency response partners, allowing them to pinpoint your location and send help.
  • Most phones have ELS turned on by default underneath location settings.
  • Your family may be able to reach your voicemail even if they can't get you directly.
  • Once you reach a safe location or shelter, update your voicemail to let others know where you’re located.

Tip: The best way to extend your phone’s battery life is to turn on the low battery setting in your phone’s settings. Extending your battery life allows you to preserve your phone for as long as possible during an emergency when charging isn’t available.

When Cell Service is Not Working

In an emergency, the power can be lost, and phone and cell services can be disrupted. Preparing now can provide you with alternative methods to both communicate and stay informed during emergencies.

Communication methods

There are some good alternative communication devices available on the market today that you can store as a backup should cell phone service get disrupted. When choosing the best alternative communications for your family, consider that it should...

  • be easy to operate.
  • have an effective range for where your family spends time.
  • have a modest amount of protection against interference.
  • be inexpensive (low initial cost, low maintenance cost, and no monthly fees) or at least what you can afford.
  • be able to operate without electricity.

Some options include a Citizens Band 2-way radio, a Ham radio, and FRS walkie-talkies.

Citizens Band 2-way radio

A CB radio, or Citizen’s Band radio, allows for communication over short distances using low-powered transmitters and receivers. No license is needed to operate a CB radio. Mobile units can reach distances of 15 miles and stationary units can reach 30 miles. Hand-held units have a shorter range, usually 3/4 to 2 miles.

Ham radio

HAM radio is a type of amateur radio that can be a useful tool before, during, and after emergencies. The equipment can be very powerful and is generally used by individuals who want to communicate long distances via short-wave frequencies. You must be licensed to operate and talk, but not to listen, which can be very informative. To obtain a license, one must pass an examination on radio theory, regulations, and operating practices. There are many resources available to help individuals prepare for the exam, including books, online courses, and local amateur radio clubs.

FRS walkie-talkies

FRS (Family Radio Service) walkie-talkies provide a means of short-range communication when cell phone use may not be available. Your emergency plan would split walkie-talkies amongst family or friends that live within the operational range of roughly 1/3 to 1 mile under normal conditions, with a line of sight blocked by a few buildings or trees. If this range limitation is acceptable, FRS walkie-talkies can provide a reliable alternative means of communication.

Staying informed

Knowing what is happening, getting updates, and following the direction of local government may be key to survival. There are two important things you can do to ensure this happens.

1 - Sign up for local alerts

Local alerts from the government can work even when general cell service is down.

2 - Purchase a battery & solar-powered radio

Suggestion: Ambient Weather WR-111B Emergency Solar Hand Crank Radio includes AM/FM/NOAA digital radio, flashlight, cell phone charger with NOAA certified weather alert & cables.

Emergency Planning
Family Meeting Locations

In the event of an emergency, you may need to meet family members somewhere else, especially if some are not at home when the emergency occurs. Different emergencies require different meeting locations. Be sure to designate at least three locations your family members are familiar with and plan to meet there depending upon which location the emergency calls for. Once these places have been chosen, write them down and make family meeting locations part of your family communication plan. Here are some general ideas. Pick specific locations that make sense for your family.

Plan 1 - Directly outside your home

Where: sidewalk in front of the house, mailbox, driveway, neighbor’s house, etc.

When:for emergencies taking place directly in the house - like a fire.

Plan 2 - Inside your neighborhood or surrounding area

Where: school parking lot, church parking lot, park playground, etc.

When: for emergencies that affect your street, your block, or other surrounding areas.

Plan 3 - Across town or further

Where: family member's home, shopping mall's south entrance, etc.

When: for broad scale evacuation orders due to wild fires, chemical spill, etc.