Tony Steuer on Creating Your Critical Emergency Action List

Published on January 2, 2019

2018 has been a year of stunning and heart-rending disasters. From the deadly wildfires that blazed across California, destroying 14,000 residences and claiming a confirmed 85 lives, to the third consecutive above-average hurricane season on record, which  cost around $33.3 billion in damages, disasters aren’t slowing down any time soon.

When a disaster hits, you may have a day to prepare or you may only have minutes. You may have to leave your home temporarily. You might be faced with no access to the internet even if you are not given an evacuation order.  In a disaster scenario, either through a mandatory or voluntary evacuation, you will have limited time to gather what’s important to you.

Given the limited time, you’ll need to make choices about what’s important to you and what is critical to you. There’s a difference there. While your family photos may be important, having a copy of your financial records is critical. If you need to file a claim, information on your homeowner’s insurance policy becomes critical.

Knowing what steps you need to take in the event of an evacuation is also important so that you can maximize your efforts.  Are you going to remember all of the tasks that should be accomplished such as turning off your gas? Do you know how to turn off your gas and have the right tool to do so? These questions should be considered ahead of time.

How to create a Critical Emergency Action List

Make a list of what needs to get done, including each important step. Each of us leads a unique life and has our own specific considerations. Take the time to carefully consider what steps are essential for you and your family.

Start by taking stock of your family’s medical concerns. Does someone need medications to manage their heart condition? Has a family member recently broken an ankle, requiring special transportation if things need to be done quickly? For example: my son has type 1 diabetes. It is critical for my family to have all of his medical supplies, including his insulin — which he cannot live without — along with ways to deliver the insulin. A stash of all specific medical supplies, along with administration instructions, plans and a general first aid kit should be pulled together as a starting point.  

Next, you’ll want to make sure you can access everything, even if “home base” gets knocked out. Have keys to your residence, cars, garage, storage unit or any other essential keys grouped together with the above medical supplies and instructions for quick and easy access. Similarly, you should find a way to make lock combinations, burglar alarm locations, code and company information available remotely. This could be as simple as writing things down and grouping this information with they keys and other supplies, or you may want to digitize.

Step three is one you should write down even if it feels frivolous: Shut things off. Detail the location of water, gas and main fuse boxes to streamline the process of finding and shutting them off in the event of a crisis. Include in your list a detailed description of where each is, along with specific instructions for shutoff so every member of the family is clear on what needs to be done. Also, be sure to include a small fire extinguisher.

Most often when I ask people what they would grab if they had only a minute, they say either their laptops or family photos (which are pretty much one in the same these days). Make sure you have grouped together any family albums along with an external flash drive backing up your digital world with the rest of the items.

All of these items and details should go together in a place the whole family is familiar with and can access. The final step is to draft and include a meeting strategy for the family in the event of an emergency. This means designating primary and secondary meeting locations as a way of finding one another should communication channels close.

What to do with your critical emergency action list:

Keep a copy of this list in your emergency kit. Consider giving a copy (or partial copy) to a trusted relative, friend, or neighbor. Communicate with your family about the list to be sure they are familiar with it and so they can add their valuable input.

Take it one step further: Follow the GET READY! approach:

The GET READY approach outlines your considerations in preparing for an emergency. Your critical emergency action list is a part of getting ready and staying ready. Getting ready means clearly laying out your goals in the event of an emergency, taking the time to educate yourself on any other goals you should add to that list, tracking and updating your financial information to keep on the path to being prepared, reviewing financial configurations for accuracy and fit into your life, watching your expenses, assembling all of your financial information in one place, reviewing details and making smart, realistic decisions, and finally, completing a yearly review.

When you put together an emergency kit or a first aid kit, your hope is that you never have to use it. Or that if you do, it’s only for something minor, like needing a Band-Aid. However, since life is uncertain, and things happen, your emergency kit needs to be stocked with tools to address all types of situations. If you don’t have the right tools, you may not be able to deal with a situation the right way. Take the time when you have the time. Your family can thank you later.


Tony Steuer is a Contributor at GritDaily. He loves helping others makes sense of the financial world in way that is easy to understand. A recognized authority on financial literacy, he is on a mission to establish a path to financial preparedness and has created roadmaps for this in his many award-winning books. Tony’s most recent title is GET READY!: A Step-by-Step Planner for Maintaining Your Financial First Aid Kit (River Grove Books, 2019). His work has been featured in The New York Times, Washington Post and U.S. News & World Report, among others. Tony is a past member of the California Department of Insurance Curriculum Board.  He lives in the Bay Area with his wife and son.

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