When the ground starts to shake, a tornado blows through or a line of wildfire sweeps through, your first thought will likely be to call your loved ones and ask how they are or let them know how you are.

When everyone is doing that though, the phone network may be overloaded. There are some strategies for planning out your communication in an emergency that minimize phone calling, both to reduce anxiety and conserve battery usage.

Create a message. 

If family and friends are calling you repeatedly, potentially from all over the country, you may not want to answer the phone and talk each time. Change your greeting message to indicate how you are, what your plan is, and who else they can talk to. For instance, here’s a sample greeting that might cover all these bases:

“Randall here. I’m ok. I’m at work and heading home. I’m keeping my phone turned off to conserve my battery. I’ll be in touch with my Aunt Martha so please get in touch with her to get updates. I’ll update this message if something changes.”

Anyone who calls you will hear this message and be reassured that you are ok, and that you will be in touch when you are able.

Limit non-emergency phone calls.

Reserve cell phone use only for life-threatening or immediately dangerous situations. If everyone in your household knows the emergency plan . . . where to meet, whether to head home or to a relative’s house, which person is getting the kids, etc. . . there may be no need for phone calls in the first place.

If you don’t get through the first time, wait a few seconds before calling again. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says immediately redialing can “clog” up the network because the data from the handset that is being sent to the cell tower doesn’t have time to clear before the same data is sent again.

Send text messages when possible.

If you need to communicate with your spouse or children in your immediate area, a text message is more likely to be delivered in a time of true emergency. Texts, also called SMS (short messaging service) work through a network that is “parallel” to the wireless telephone network.

Your emergency contact shouldn’t be your neighbor.

Your neighbors are probably great people. Ready to help you out with loans of tools and rides around town when your car breaks down. They can always be counted on to bring great food to the barbecue or potluck. They may even be trusted enough to watch your kids when you need the help. But, no matter how close to your neighbors you are, they shouldn’t be your emergency contact in the event of a disaster.

Pick someone who doesn’t live on your street, or even in your state.

Your emergency contact in the event of a natural disaster should be someone not in your immediate area, because if there’s a widespread disaster such as earthquake or tornado, nearby people will be affected as well.

The person on your emergency contact list should know that they will be getting calls from all of your family members. When others call the contact, the contact can relay messages without everyone in the family calling back and forth. The emergency contact can also notify others in the less-immediate family to let them know what’s going on, again, without everyone making numerous phone calls.

The idea is that everyone can communicate by making one phone call to the contact. Multiple phone calls will not only wear out the phone’s battery but place a drain on the telephone network system.



Adults tend to think that we can handle everything and of course that means we’ll take care of our kids in an emergency. And, there are some things we may think that kids aren’t ready to handle. Is emergency planning on that list for you? Children actually need, and many want, information about what they should do in an emergency. Kids feel safer when they know what to do. Here’s a list of things to guide your conversation on emergency planning with kids.

Set a place to meet outside your home.
You may designate a trusted neighbor or a shed on your property as a place to meet if there’s an emergency in your home such as a fire or earthquake. If those aren’t practical, designate a nearby street corner as your meeting spot in case you get split up.

Tell your kids who your emergency contact is. 
If your contact is Aunt Martha who lives out of state, make sure your kids have her number and know that she is the person who will relay messages. You and your kids should call her in case you get separated, and she will be the point person to relay messages to others so family members aren’t calling back and forth.

Make sure your kids know who is authorized to pick them up from school.
While you’re at it, check that the kids’ emergency contact card is updated with current names, addresses and phone numbers for people you approve to be with your child in an emergency.

Put some toys, games and books in your bug out bag.
Depending on the age of your children, pack a few favorite toys and games or new games to keep them occupied during what might possibly be long stretches without electricity. A pad of paper and a pencil, a deck of cards and pair of dice take up little space and offer many possibilities. Try to include their favorite games and books that are small and compact.

Include some snacks just for kids.
Grownups may be able to eat powdered peanut butter and unsalted crackers all day long, but kids would appreciate having something just for them that they enjoy eating. The stress of emergencies can be difficult on children, so these little things to give them comfort and familiarity really help.

Practice calling 911 with your kids
Don’t actually call 911, but show your kids how your cell phone works and how to make a call. Demonstrate how to make an emergency call if the phone is turned off, if the screen is locked, or there is no reliable cell service.

Read on for more information about planning for emergencies when your household includes children.



In the event of an emergency, water is going to be one of the most sought-after commodities. It is essential to store water for emergency use (one gallon per person per day is the recommended amount), but you may be surprised at the sources of water you already may have in or around your home that can be tapped in an emergency.

Hot water heater
Your home’s hot water heater could be the storage container for 30 to 60 gallons of clean drinking water. In order to utilize this water though, following an earthquake, tornado or some other powerful event, your water heater needs to be protected from tipping over or something else falling over on it and crushing it.

A trip to your local hardware store and $15 from your wallet will get you a steel band designed specifically to attach your water heater to the wall so it won’t tip. Make sure the gas or electricity is off to the tank, and carefully open the valve at the bottom to collect the water.

Toilet tank
It may be possible to salvage the 3 to 5 gallons of water from the toilet tank. Don’t use water from a tank that contains colored disinfectant, because the chemicals are poisonous. Plan to boil this water before use.

Water pipes
To use the water in your pipes, open the highest faucet in your home, then collect the water that should trickle out from the lowest faucet in the home.

Ice in the freezer
This will not be a significant source of water, but don’t forget about it or accidentally spill it, as it could amount to several cups of clean water.

Washing machine
If you anticipate a water emergency, consider filling up your washing machine with clean water for use later.

Swimming pool or hot tub
Swimming pools are a huge water storage container but the chemicals used to kill germs are too concentrated for safe drinking. This water can be used for personal hygiene, cleaning and toilet flushing, which could help you stretch the supply of your potable water.

Water bed
As in swimming pool water, don’t plan on drinking this water but it can be used for other purposes.

Depending on the time of year and where you live, rainwater may not be an option. But if it is, this can help you stretch your other water resources. Rainwater can collect contaminants on its journey to your storage container, so consider boiling or filtering before use.

A nearby creek or river
Take a moment the next time you are driving around your neighborhood to notice the nearest natural water source. There may be a seasonal creek or small river you don’t think much about on a daily basis that could be an important resource in an emergency.


Knowing how to work with the light or the lack of is paramount in combat situations. If you have the ability to choose a lighting situation or plan for it, you’re much more likely to win.

Most home invasions occur at night. Intruders are most likely to be in pairs. They’re looking to use any force necessary to gain control of the environment and, at most, you might have 60 seconds to get the upper hand. Other than your handgun, your biggest advantage is your environment. It’s nighttime, and since you know the environment better then they do, the darkness plays in your favor. Here are some tips to help you protect your home in the dark.

Read the Light

You should know how the light levels in your house will affect how you’re seen from various choke points. These points are basically the doorways to your bedroom and other rooms, the end of any hallways, across the living room, past the large window. What about mirrors? Move through your house and note the places where an encounter may occur or where you might become visible.

Practice at night with your home just how it is on any normal night. Set up a few scenarios. Start from your bedroom and move to the front door or move from the living room or the kids room to the garage. Take your time and move slowly. Consider the ambient light around you. Are you silhouetted?  Which angles put light on you? If intruders were coming from this way or that, how well could they see you? If you’re a photographer this will be much more natural for you.

Don’t Silhouette Yourself

The obvious strategy is to avoid standing in the light if possible. Don’t allow your face to be lit for your intruder but equally important, don’t give them a clear silhouette to shoot at.

Move to the Darkness

You should always be in the shadows since they can conceal your movements. Intruders may have flashlights, maybe they don’t. In either situation, you’ll be better off if an intruder simply can’t see you. This will give you a huge advantage to get a good view of them and add  the element of surprise.

DON’T Use Lasers or Flashlights

Flashlights and especially lasers will give your position away. This is the quickest way for two or more intruders to make quick work of you. If you have a flashlight on, you might be nervous and in that case, the first one to shoot will win. This puts unnecessary pressure on you. You don’t want to be in put a situation where you might feel you need to shoot prematurely. You’ll simply have one less round in the chamber and will have put friends or family under unnecessary risk.

If You Do Use a Flashlight

DON’T! But if you do,  flash your light very quickly. If you want a flashlight on your home defense pistol, get one that has the option to turn on when you squeeze the button and turn off when you release. You can use this burst of light to light your path. Make sure you don’t kick anything, trip over the kids toys or break your leg/toe or whatever which will certainly compromise your situation. Again, move to the point of the lowest light.


Practice the scenarios that make the most sense for you. If you’re usually in bed in the evening make sure to cover from the bedroom down the hallway over and over. If you like to watch TV in the living room, practice the living room to the front door over and over. Remember the second intruder could be out the back door or a window while the other one may come in through the garage door. Make sure to practice from the intruders’ perspective. How do the streetlights light the hallway coming from the front door or garage door? Try it with the front porch light on, then the back.

Breath and Try to Relax

You know you’re a much better shot when you’re calm but I had to say it anyway. You know the environment and you’ve practiced. You can do it. Be confident.