The tragedies of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and the hurricanes of 2005 underscore the need for all public safety personnel and their families across the country to better prepare for the possibility of being involved in or deploying to a large-scale disaster.

One of the lessons learned from recent disasters is that families of public safety personnel who had an effective plan to deal with an extended incident response by their loved ones generally managed better than those that did not. Because of this, 7-Dippity highly recommends that all public safety personnel and their families develop an Incident Pre-Plan for their family.

Creating An Incident Pre-Plan

While most families plan to avoid disasters, families of public safety personnel must prepare for their loved ones to head directly into one. When 9/11 occurred, many families learned that there was little time to plan for the absence of their loved ones at the time of the disaster. By creating an Incident Pre-Plan ahead of time, you and your family will be better prepared to deal with the difficulties of an extended incident response if and when one occurs.

An Incident Pre-Plan will help families anticipate areas where extra support may be needed in order to meet challenges they may face while the responder is away. The Plan will also benefit responders, as responders who know that their families are secure and taken care of in their absence will be better able to concentrate on their assigned tasks in the field.

Understanding Each Other's Roles

Public safety personnel and their families can best be prepared for a disaster or other large-scale incident if they know each other's potential roles and responsibilities, both at work and at home. Family members should learn about the potential assignments of their loved one's job, along with possible lengths of deployment. Likewise, public safety workers should understand any responsibilities their family members may have if a disaster occurs. In some families, both parents may have critical roles at work or in the community during a disaster. If this is a possibility, special planning for the care of dependents such as children, elderly family members and pets will be necessary.

After you and your family have discussed the different roles and responsibilities you each may have during a disaster, you will be in a position to begin creating your Incident Pre-Plan. Here are some tips to help you formulate your Incident Pre-Plan.

Steps in Developing an Incident Pre-Plan
Get The Facts:

Gather information about the types of potential disasters your loved one may have to respond to. How quickly would your loved one be "called up" and for how long might he or she be deployed? Also, think about how various types of disasters or large scale incidents could affect the family remaining at home. Would family members need to re-locate to safety? If so, where would they go? How would they get there? Also, find out who in the department the family can call to get updates about the deployed member's safety and well-being.

Formulate The Plan:

Adults in the family should meet and discuss various scenarios, including back-up plans for essential dependent care. Discuss what roles the family members normally play and how family needs can still be met in their absence. Recruit help now! Locate trusted extended family members, friends and neighbors who can assist.

Write Down the Plan:

In moments of crisis, memories can become less clear. The best plan is a written plan that is discussed and distributed to all "need to know" members of your family and support network. Once the plan is developed, children can be involved so that they also are aware of what to do when. Most important for children is the sense of assurance that they will be cared for in the event of emergency.

Practice the Plan:

Have a family drill, just like practicing a fire escape plan. This will help insure that everyone involved will have the right phone numbers handy and will know who to call and what to request. Like any skill, practice makes perfect. Review and practice the plan every 6 months.

Revise as Necessary:

Family and support network changes need to be noted as they occur and revised for practice at each drill.

Tips For Developing An Incident Pre-Plan
Make sure the plan
  • Is simple and easy to follow.
  • Is flexible and allows for change.
  • Is comprehensive and covers both short- and long-term deployment scenarios.
  • Accounts for the absence of both parents (if applicable).
  • Accounts for the care of dependents such as children, the elderly and pets.
  • Supports practical matters such as bill and mortgage payments, legal matters, medical care, emergency access to cash, etc.
  • Identifies how/where family members will get information about the incident and the responder's status.
  • Allows for the continuation of normal routines as much as possible, especially for children.
  • Includes activities for children, as this allows them to have a sense of security and control.
  • Contains an updated listing of plan participants, including names, contact information and identified responsibilities.
When developing a plan, it will help to:
  • Make a list of needs the family may have in the event of deployment and identify areas where back-up assistance may be necessary.
  • Create a list of helpers (e.g., trusted extended family, friends and/or neighbors) who are willing to be assigned responsibilities.
  • Identify potential back-ups for every essential role (e.g., picking up kids from school, feeding pets).
After the plan is completed:
  • Provide a copy to all plan participants.
  • Keep copies in easy-to-find places.
  • Keep a separate, updated list of relevant resources and contact information, in the event of an emergency.
  • Reevaluate the plan every 6-12 months and revise as necessary.