Update: Because of what’s been happening in Japan, I’ve been receiving emails all week asking for tips and advice on planning for emergencies so I thought I’d re-post this past article for you (published a year ago March, 2010). It’s an excellent freebie guide that I hope you will use and take advantage of. There isn’t a guide I can offer on how to act with dignity and grace in the midst of terror and crisis, but I can point you to the amazing people of Japan who are displaying it every day while they face unimaginable difficulties…
Today’s feature offers a wealth of information from the Government of Canada: Is Your Family Prepared? 
Although it’s written for Canadian citizens, there’s plenty of information and tips that you can use regardless of where you live–the message is that each family is responsible for getting themselves ready ahead of time for all kinds of unexpected chaos (storms, community disasters, etc.).
Not only will this help you and your family be better equipped to handle a situation effectively, it also ensures emergency service workers will be able to tend to those in the community that really need help: the injured or at risk.
On the site you’ll find a guide & checklist available via pdf download: getprepared.gc.ca . A few of the tips offered:
- Make copies of important documents: Make copies of birth and marriage certificates, passports, licences, wills, land deeds and insurance. Take photos of family members in case a lost persons record is created. Keep them in a safe place, both inside and outside your home. You might want to put them in a safety deposit box or give them to friends and family who live out of town.
- Plan for each family member to call or e-mail the same out-of-town contact person in case of an emergency.
- For the gas and water valves, keep shut-off instructions close by and read them carefully (this is important for each adult to know in case one is unconscious).
- Keep some cash on hand, as automated bank machines and their networks may not work during a crisis. You may have difficulty using debit or credit cards.
You’ll also find information on what to pack in your family kit, things like canned food, bottles of water, wind-up flashlight & radio, candles, waterproof matches, first aid supplies, extra keys, etc.
Why not take a weekend to organize a kit for your family? Some basic supplies are all that’s needed and you’ll be able to grab the bag and go (if needed) or have everything you need on hand if something happens. If you’d rather purchase a ready-made kit, see these ones offered by the Red Cross: Red Cross Canada  (check out the Shop), American Red Cross . If you live in another country, check the website for your local Red Cross as they’ll likely have something available for you too.
Please visit the site above for all the details, plenty of great information to help you make a plan and get prepared!
Updated: Contact Cards : Free printables from the Red Cross, these fold up to carry in your wallet. Lists contacts to call or text as well as local numbers (other than 911) for support (police, fire, ambulance, etc.).
Important Documents : Several different forms to download (both word doc & pdf) such as Important Phone Numbers; Child ID Kits; Adult ID; Pet Id.