Collect! Share! Practice! Family Communication Plans

In May 2004, the “Hallam Tornado” (video) took a devastating path through southeast Nebraska. The tornado was on the ground for more than 100 minutes, covered 52 miles and was at points 2.5 miles wide. During the storm, we hunkered down in the basement heeding the tornado sirens going off in Wilber. My kids weren’t home at the time so of course I worried … “what if” moments. Is everyone safe? How do we let family know we are OK? 

Don’t wait for an emergency to think about the “What if’s”. The time to prepare is before something happens. Whether you are a work, school or home, it’s important to have a Family Communication Plan in place in the event of any emergency! Every member of your household should know how to reach each other and where to meet in the event of an emergency.

Once you have your plan, practice – practice – practice!

America’s PrepareAthon! highlights ten actions you can take to help keep your family safe in the event of an emergency. The Family Communication Plan has a checklist and a form where you can input your important contacts, print and share with family.

“TEXT IS BEST! If you are using a mobile phone, a text message may get through when a phone call will not. This is because a text message requires far less bandwidth than a phone call. Text messages may also save and then send automatically as soon as capacity becomes available.”

If there is an emergency, your mobile phone can be an important asset:

Do you children know who to call or where to go in an emergency?

Have you practiced your Family Communications Plan with your children?

Text is best! If you must call from a mobile phone, keep the call brief and share vital information with your family/plan members. If your call is to emergency personnel, follow their directions carefully, you may be asked to stay on the phone. If you must redial a number, wait 10 seconds. Dialing too soon bogs down networks. Do your part to keep networks free for emergency communications. Save your battery.

Text-to-911. In some states, Text-to-911 is available. A list of areas updated to Text-to-911 is updated monthly by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Conserve Your Battery. In an emergency, you want to conserve your mobile phone battery:

  • reduce the brightness of your screen,
  • place your phone in airplane mode,
  • close apps you don’t need.

Keep charged batteries, a car phone charger, and a solar charger available for
backup power for your mobile phone and devices. If you know there is severe weather approaching, make sure batteries to your devices are fully charged “just in case”.

Don’t Text & Drive. If driving, do not text, read texts, or make a call without a hands-free device. (We all know this doesn’t just apply to “in an emergency”).

Evacuation. If you have to evacuate and have a call-forwarding feature on your home landline, forward calls to your mobile number.

Use Social Media. You may be able to use the Internet to share information quickly or find out if your loved ones are OK. Social media networks like Twitter, Facebook and email give you another chance to reach family and provide information (ie storm damage reports) to media, authorities.

What do you do if you don’t have a mobile phone? Purchase and keep a prepaid phone card to use if needed during or after a disaster. For young children or other members of your household who don’t have access to or use a cell phone, include caregivers, schools or other contacts for your family in your communication plan. For example, I include neighbors in our emergency contacts since I work out of town.

Additional resources:

As always, check with your local emergency management agency for specific resources in your community. You can also contact your local university extension office for assistance locating the appropriate resources or agencies in your community. To find your local office, visit

Have a great day!

Soni Cochran

Responsive. Innovative. Trusted.
Nebraska Extension provides research-based information to help you make informed decisions any time, any place, anywhere –

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