How to Find Your Family After a Disaster

I think the worst nightmare for moms – or really, for all people – is not to be able to find their family after an earthquake or other disaster.

If the Big Bad happens, I don’t want you to have to worry too long. That’s why I’m giving you some brief info here to help you and your fam get back together faster.

Boy and mom hugging, looking sad or tired
  • First, and most important, get your communication and reunification plan squared away. This form includes meet-up spots and emergency contacts. Put one in a ziploc in each child’s backpack, one in each car, at your workplace, and in a central location at home. Make sure each member of the family memorizes your meet-up places. Tell your children and their teachers that they’ve got these plans and phone numbers in their backpacks. Put out-of-state emergency contact numbers into each phone and type “emergency contact” into the notes field so you can search for them when you’re in shock and all discombobulated and can’t remember the name of your spouse’s great aunt in Colorado.
  • The next thing you should know is that all major disasters have reunification centers set up by the Red Cross or a local government. Make sure you have a battery-operated or hand-crank radio so you can find out where your local center is. Emergency personnel patrolling the area will also be able to tell you.
  • Third, if internet service is out where you are, the reunification center or emergency shelter is likely to have a stack of Safe and Well forms, as well as information from Safe and Well forms completed elsewhere. If your loved ones don’t turn up at the center, you should fill out one of these forms. Disaster workers will pick up all the completed forms regularly and take them to a location with internet, where they will enter the information into a database. Then they’ll bring back information from the database to share with you to help you locate people who may be in other centers.
  • Fourth, mark yourself safe in social media if possible, and (now, today!) ask your loved ones with social media accounts to do so also if they’re confronted with a disaster of the magnitude I’m talking about.
  • Fifth, and I hope you don’t get to this point, if you are missing a child, tell all officials you may run into. In fact, tell everyone you see (as I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you)! Police and emergency officials have access to the Unaccompanied Minor Registry, run by the National Center for Missing and Endangered Children (NCMEC). This registry is activated during every disaster. When a child is found without a parent, guardian, or other known caregiver, the adult reporting the child to law enforcement will be advised or assisted in filling out the Unaccompanied Minor form. The information from this form then goes into a national database which will help officials match parents/guardians with their missing children.

Unfortunately, most of these steps involve doing something passive – waiting for information about where your loved ones are, or waiting for *them* to find *you*. That’s the hardest part, but so important. Just like getting lost in the woods, you don’t want to be out there looking while they’re looking for you and keep missing each other.

I hope you never need these steps. If you take anything from this post, it’s to please create your communication and reunification plans now.

– Jenny

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