Make a Plan

Emergency Preparedness - Make a Plan

After a major disaster, it is unlikely that emergency response services will be able to immediately respond to everyone’s needs, so it’s important to be prepared to take care of yourself and your family. Plan to be on your own for at least the first 72 hours. Download FEMA's Make a Plan (PDF) guide and the Personal Disaster Plan (PDF) published by the County of San Diego Office of Emergency Services.

The following steps will help you prepare for any emergency:

Designate an Out-of-State Contact Person

Try to pick someone that is far enough away to not be affected by the same emergency. Provide this person with the names and contact information of the people you want to keep informed of your situation. Instruct family members to call this person and tell them where they are.

Duplicate important documents and inventory valuables

Duplicate important documents and inventory valuables, (in writing and with photographs or video) and keep copies of these items off -site, either in a safety deposit box or with someone you trust. Documents to duplicate may include: birth certificate, passport, drivers license, social security card, wills, marriage statement, deeds, financial statements, credit cards, insurance information, and prescriptions.

Make Your Home Safe

View each room with a “disaster eye” and identify and fix any possible hazards:

  • Install smoke detectors on each level of your home and change batteries every six months.
  • Move beds away from windows.
  • Move mirrors and heavy pictures away from couches or places where people sit.
  • Clear hallways and exits for easy evacuation.
  • Store heavy items on the lowest shelves.
  • Keep ABC type fire extinguishers and know how and when to use them.
  • Strap down your water heater and fit it with a flexible gas supply line.
  • Store flammable or highly reactive chemicals securely and separate from each other.
  • Secure pictures, wall hangings and heavy items such as bookcases and file cabinets.
  • Locate the gas main and other utilities and know how and when to turn them off.

Make a Household / Family Plan

Talk with your family about the potential disasters that can happen and why it’s necessary to prepare for them. Involve all key people in planning.

  • Make sure everyone knows where to find your disaster supply kit and go-bags.
  • Keep a flashlight and a pair of shoes under everyone’s bed in case there is an earthquake during the night. Use a plastic bag tied to the leg of the bed to keep these items from moving during an earthquake.
  • Plan where to meet if your home becomes unsafe. Choose two places, one just outside your home and one outside your neighborhood in case you are told to evacuate.
  • Determine the best escape routes from your home. Try and identify two escape routes.
  • Make sure each member knows who your family’s out-of-state contact is and instruct them to call this person and tell him/her where they are.
  • Make sure all household members know how and when to turn the utilities off.
  • Practice your evacuation routes, Duck, Cover & Hold and Stop, Drop & Roll drills.
  • Teach each member of your family how to use a fire extinguisher.
  • Create emergency response cards for each of your family members.
  • Take into account the special needs of children, seniors, people with disabilities,
  • family members that don’t speak English and pets.

Prepare a Disaster Supply Kit

Put together a disaster supply kit and a go-bag for each family member in case you have to evacuate. Plan to have supplies for yourself and family for at least three days following a disaster. Download a list of items that should be included in your basic emergency kit and go-bag.

Extra Tips for Seniors & People With Disabilities

  • Tell your neighbors if you cannot move well or quickly in an emergency and make arrangements for someone to check on you. Develop a personal support network of people who will check on you following a disaster.
  • Your personal attendant or home health agency worker may have problems related to the disaster and may not be able to help you. Talk with your personal attendant about their agency’s plan for continued client services in an emergency.
  • Try to always maintain a three-day supply of your prescription medication. If you use oxygen keep an emergency supply for three-days or more.
  • For all medical equipment requiring electrical power, such as breathing equipment and infusion pumps, check with your medical supply company
  • about a backup power source. This could include a battery pack or generator.

Extra Tips for Parents

  • Include your children in family discussions and planning for emergency safety.
  • Teach your children their basic personal information so they can identify themselves and get help if they become separated from a parent or guardian. Prepare an emergency card with this information for your child including their full name, address, phone number, parent’s work number and out of state contact.
  • Teach children to dial their home telephone number and emergency 911.
  • Know the policies of the school or daycare center your children attend. Make plans to have someone pick them up if you are unable to get to them.
  • Make sure each child knows the family’s alternate meeting sites if you are separated in a disaster and cannot return to your home.
  • Make sure each child knows how to reach your family’s out-of-state contact person.
  • Teach children what gas smells like and advise them to tell an adult if they smell gas after an emergency.

Extra Tips for Pet Owners

  • Arrange for a neighbor to check on your pets and take care of them if a disaster occurs while you are not at home.
  • If you must evacuate your home in a disaster, keep in mind that most disaster shelters cannot accept pets because of health and safety regulations. Service animals for people with disabilities are an exception.
  • Ask friends or relatives outside the affected area to shelter your animals if necessary.
  • Ask local animal shelters if they provide emergency shelter or foster care for pets in a disaster.
  • Have a portable carrier for your pet, animals react differently under stress and you may not be able to carry them.


The ability to locate and operate utility shutoffs will increase safety and reduce property damage in a disaster situation.

Natural Gas

  • Natural gas leaks can cause an explosive and flammable atmosphere inside a building.
  • The main shutoff valve is next to the main gas meter, usually located on the exterior of your home or building.
  • If you smell gas, shut off the main valve and open all windows and doors.
  • Only turn off the gas if you smell a leak. Another indicator of a leak is if the unmarked wheels on the gas meter are spinning.
  • Never use candles or matches. Do not turn on electrical switches or appliances.
  • To turn gas off, turn the lever 1/4 turn; when lever crosses the direction of the pipe (across the flow) the gas is off.
  • Keep a crescent wrench or gas shut-off tool nearby to turn the lever.
  • Once you turn off the gas it may take several days for it to be turned back on. Never attempt to turn the gas back on, let SDG&E do it.


  • Electricity can be deadly. Electrocution can result from direct contact with live wires or anything that has been energized by these wires.
  • Know where your home’s main electric switch is. It may be a pull handle or very large circuit breakers inside the panel box.
  • Shut off electricity when:
    • Arcing or burning occurs in electrical devices
    • You smell the distinct odor of burning insulation
    • The area around switches or plugs is blackened and/or hot to the touch
    • The complete loss of power is accompanied by the smell of burning material


  • Water not only creates property damage, but it can also cause electrocution if electrical wires energize it.
  • An inside water shutoff is usually located in the basement, garage, or alley. The inside water shutoff is located on a riser pipe and is usually a red or yellow wheel.
  • In either case, to shut off the water, turn wheel clockwise until off.
  • Shut off the water when there is a severe leak inside the building.


  • Plan for how you will communicate with loved ones after a disaster.
  • Long-distance phone lines often work before local phone lines so identify an out-of-state contact and provide this person with the contact information of people you want to keep informed of your situation. Share this information with your family and friends locally.
  • Avoid making non-urgent phone calls after a disaster—even if phone lines are undamaged, increased phone traffic can jam phone circuits.
  • Don’t count on your cell phone—increased traffic on cell phone networks can quickly overload wireless capacity.
  • Keep coins in your go-bag, pay phones are more likely to work before other phone lines.
  • Cordless phones or phone systems require electricity so make sure you have a backup phone that requires no electricity.
  • After an earthquake, check all your telephones to be sure they have not shaken off the hook and are tying up a line.