How To Create A Family Escape Plan

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By Bryan Rucker •  15 min read

Imagine you and your family are safely tucked away in bed.  Then imagine that you—or someone you love—is awakened by the smell of smoke, the piercing whistle of a fire or burglar alarm, the crackling quake of a large tremor, or the high speed winds and rain of a tornado or hurricane.  Do you know what you would do?  Does your family know what to do?  If not, you should definitely think of creating—and practicing—a family escape plan.

Formulating a family escape plan, in preparation of a manmade or natural disaster or tragedy, is not only a forward-thinking and responsible strategy, it may be the only chance you and your family have if you want to escape the worst a calamity such as this could potentially bring.  To help you avoid a possible heart-breaking scenario, below we have outlined a comprehensive plan to ensure that both you and your family members are prepared for the worst possible situation—and ready to deal with some of the real consequences it may carry with it.

How To Get Started

When developing a family escape plan there are several steps you will need to follow, as well as a few things you will need to create.  Below we have outlined the various steps for creating a clear and concise family escape plan that everyone can follow.

Make a Map of Your House

Creating a map of your home is an essential step in the family escape plan process.  Of course, both you and your family already know the ins and outs of your house, but a visual representation is necessary so that everyone is on the same page—so that everyone knows where to go and what to do in case of an emergency.  This map, which can also be just simple blueprints if they are available, should include color-coded labels that mark every exit within your home, including doors, windows, hallways and staircases.  You should also label and make known things such as fire extinguishers and the main shut off valves for utilities such as gas and electricity.

Create an Emergency Supply Kit

Every family should have an emergency supply kit—also known as a bug-out bag—that is stocked and ready to use just in case an emergency of some kind hits.  In general, this kit should contain enough supplies and provisions to last you and your family 72 hours.  Events such as fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, etc. may prevent you from having access to your home for a while, so be sure to think of everything you might need, being careful to take just those things that may be necessary for survival.  Here are just a few of the items you should include in this kit, and the reasoning behind bringing each item:

 In addition to the items in your emergency supply kit, there are a couple items you should definitely purchase for your home if you have not already done so.  They include:

Check Smoke Alarms and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

While not officially part of the “Family Escape Plan,” getting in the habit of regularly checking your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors is a good idea.  A good majority of catastrophic fires, in which someone is injured or killed, happen in homes that either have no smoke detectors whatsoever, or have smoke detectors that are not working.  Smoke detectors are there for a reason—to save lives—and it is up to you to ensure they are in proper working order.  A good rule of thumb is to change the batteries on your smoke detectors every six months (some people change batteries each time the time changes—falls backs or springs forward), and test them regularly to make certain they are in tip-top shape.

Put Your Family Escape Plan into Writing

Once you have created a map of your house, stocked your emergency supply kit and checked your smoke alarms and similar devices, it’s time to commit your plan to paper—a plan you will later discuss and reinforce with your family.  Agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Red Cross and others have downloadable Family Escape Plans that can give you a basic blueprint of one of these plans, but you will have to fill in the specifics and tailor it to your individual situation.  Among the many details you will want to include in your Family Escape Plan are:

The Route and Door/Window through which Each Person Will Escape

When creating your family escape plan, you will probably want to assume that each member of your family will be in his or her bedroom when an emergency strikes, just as they are during the middle of the night.  Keeping that in mind, you will want to outline on your map the route and exit through which each person will escape.

For those with multi-level homes, in which most of the bedrooms are upstairs, you may want to have a Plan A and a Plan B.  Plan A can be the easiest route—for example, down the staircase and through the nearest door.  While in Plan B you will need to assume that access is blocked, and thus create a plan for escaping through an upstairs window.


It’s important to know—and reinforce—the various responsibilities each member of the family will take on during an emergency.  Naturally, in new families, where the children are very young, most of the responsibilities will fall to the adults in the household, but as children get older you may want to assign them one or two tasks so they feel needed.  In extended families, in which senior or disabled adults are living among families, the “responsibility” section of the family escape plan may become a bit more complicated and complex, but it is still very feasible to create this list.

Some of the responsibilities you will need to consider when formulating your family escape plan include:

Other responsibilities may come up as time goes on, so it’s important to update your plan about once a year to keep it current.

The Meeting Place

Once everyone has successfully escaped the house, you will want to come up with a rendezvous point at which each member of the family can check-in.  This could be a neighbor’s house, a school, a nearby monument or landmark of some kind, a park, etc.  During some emergencies, when everything is chaotic, you’d be surprised how fast families can become separated, so having a central meeting point is a great way to put your mind at ease.

Have Someone to Call

It’s important to remember that not all emergencies happen when all your loved ones are safely in the home with you.  In tragedies such as hurricanes and earthquakes, for example, in which some members of the family may be away from the home, it’s important to come up with two phone numbers through which everyone can check-in.  The first should be a member of the local family—for instance; everyone calls the number of the phone that is near or in the emergency supply kit.  This will let immediate family members know you are okay.  The second number should be a friend or relative who lives in another state or city—somewhere that may not be affected by the same tragedy.  This is another great way for everyone to check-in so that friends and loved ones know that everybody is okay.

Have a Family Meeting

Now that you have committed your family escape plan to writing, it’s time for the family meeting.  This is an important step for all families, but especially crucial for families who have small children.  During the meeting, carefully go over the map of the house.  Help children understand where their bedroom is in relation to the various exits in the house, and explain the preferred route they should take when leaving the home.  Remember to have a backup route and exit for each member of the family, just in case the primary exit is blocked, and quiz them from time to time as to what they would do if an emergency struck.

Children should also be taught about warning signals and sirens and what they mean.  For example, some towns in the Midwest have sirens that warn of incoming tornados, essentially telling everyone to seek shelter.

Explain the various responsibilities each family member will have, and encourage them by giving them an age-appropriate responsibility of their own. This will help them buy into the process.  Go over the meeting place at which all members of the family will gather during or after an emergency.  Also, have them commit the primary and secondary phone numbers to memory (this may take a while depending on age).  Children with cell phones should put both of those numbers in their contact list for easy access.

You may want to repeat this meeting every so often to keep it fresh in the children’s minds, and test them every so often with questions like: “where’s the meeting place,” “what is your responsibility,” and “who are you going to call.”

Practice and Drill

The best way to ensure your family escape plan will be successful and remembered is to practice it often.  As the coordinator, try to mix in planned practices with surprise drills.  And create different scenarios (fire, tornado, etc) so that they learn both the primary and secondary escape routes.  Children who sleep upstairs should be taught how to climb down a ladder—just in case—as you don’t want their first time using a ladder to be the night of an emergency.  Have everyone meet at the designated spot—a spot that is at least a block away from your home.  Often in cases of fire and other emergencies, the authorities will tape off the immediate area, so make sure they know exactly where to go and who to call.

You can even keep the practices fun by using a stopwatch and encouraging them to “break the old record” for speed.  The important thing is that everyone learns the plan inside and out.

Events such as tornados and earthquakes can strike out of the blue, and fires can spread through a house rapidly, leaving you and your family little time to escape.  Having an escape plan is your best bet for surviving one of these events, and will help you sleep a little easier knowing that everyone in your family knows just what to do, just where to go, and just who to call.

More resources:

image by Rosinka79/Deposit Photos

Bryan Rucker

Brian Rucker has spent his entire life participating in essentially all things wildlife. His concern grew astronomically during the previous tensions between the United States and other nations. He also has grown a substantial interest in survival and sustainability due to the current shape of the world over the years. He believes that preparation triumphs all things.