Preparing for Family Emergencies

By Gina Vliet

At some point in your life you’ve likely had fire drills at school or work. You may use safety and emergency planning in your everyday life. You could have an evacuation plan in case of fire in your home. You might out on some protective gear before you take on a home improvement job. You could be one of those people who makes sure there’s a first-aid kit, food, and water in the car before heading out on a road trip.

Depending on where you live you may have a plan for floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, or volcanoes. In certain parts of the world, it’s common to have a plan in place for weathering winter power outages.

You get the idea. The concept of emergency planning isn’t new to anyone, regardless of your level of preparedness. And you’ll also know, through the fire drills at school or having weathered an actual emergency, that preparedness and practice provide some control and a sense of relief in those situations.


Same goes for these changing times. Whether it’s an emerging health concern, becoming caregiver to an aging parent or partner, a job loss, or some other transition in your life, there are things you can do to prepare.


Family Emergency Preparedness allows us to respond to situations rather than react to them. Reacting comes from a place of emotion, and as I’m sure you’ve all experienced at some point in your lives, we don’t make the best decisions when we’re in a highly emotional state.

Think about the recent toilet paper hoarding. Best use of resources in the current crisis? Probably not.


Here are some simple things you can do to prepare for personal and family emergencies to get you started.

Caregiver preparedness

Ask yourself who depends on you: a pet, some plants, a partner, parent, kids, friend, or neighbour.  Now think about what they’re going to need if you are out of commission. Think short term and long term. Now make a plan. If you’ve ever taken a  vacation in your life, you’ve done this before!

  • Make a list of what that dependent needs (food, water, shelter, care).
  • Make a list of who might be able to provide immediate and long-term care.
  • Have a contingency plan, just in case you and your back-up caregiver are out of commission.
  • Make a list of support services for your caregiving team. For example, if it’s your dog, include vet & emergency vet.
  • Write it down. A plan is worth nothing if it’s not documented.
  • Consolidate critical documents. For example: health records, insurance papers, etc.
  • Speak to everyone on your support team: both care receivers and care givers. It should not be a surprise to your mom, your best friend, or your brother that your best friend is going to be your mom’s short-term carer until your brother, who lives further away, can make arrangements to be there.

Quick & dirty solution: Have a conversation. Then tack an emergency contact list to your fridge, and to theirs. You can also post your plan there.


Personal preparedness

Ask yourself who needs to know if you are out of commission.

  • Make a list of who might be able to provide immediate and long-term care: your Power of Attorney (POA), Health Proxy, partner, trusted friend/family member. Make note of who to notify first, and who will speak for you when you cannot.
  • Identify who gets called next in the event something happens to you. Work, school, those you give care to.
  • Make a list of support services and important contact numbers for your caregiving team: doctor, bank, landlord/mortgage holder, etc.
  • Consolidate your critical documents.
  • Have an Advance Care Plan (ACP). Your ACP documents your care wishes and choice of health proxy. Your health proxy speaks for you when you cannot, so they need to know what your wishes are!
  • Make sure your POA and Health Proxy know where the information is they need to make good decisions for you.
  • Write it down. Have a conversation with everyone involved, but make sure it’s also documented.

Quick & dirty solution: Put an emergency contact list in your wallet and on your fridge.


End of life preparedness

Lastly, plan for the inevitability of your mortality.

  • Complete an Advance Care Plan. It identifies your health proxy and wishes for care.
  • Have an End of life plan: This includes arrangements for your body when you’re done with it, and plans to deal with your stuff, your finances, your estate, your legacy, etc.
  • Have a Use a proper wills & estate lawyer for your Will. You going to pay for professional advice when you create a will or when the will is being probated/connected in court. It will cost you less to get the advice proactively.

Quick & dirty solution: Get something in writing! Create a holograph will if its legal where you reside. Holograph wills are handwritten, signed, and dated. No witnesses are necessary.


NOTE: All your plans are living documents. Your review of them should match the pace of change in your life.


Lastly, remember:  Planning for emergencies isn’t going to bring an emergency on. What it does is relieve stress and allows you to find control in a sometime uncontrollable situation. It allows you to use of your time and resources more effectively and efficiently.

Planning for your death is also not going to bring it on any faster! What it will do is make the situation far less stressful for those you leave behind. It’s the most kind and loving thing you can do for those you care about most.



Dying With Dignity Canada, Advance Care Plan kits:

Advance Care Plan resources from Speak Up Canada:

Canadian Virtual Hospice resources: