Family Continuity Planning, by John from Virginia

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It’s 2:36PM; you and your spouse are at work.  Your son is at day care and your daughter is at school.  The Schumer hits the fan. What is your Family Continuity Plan?
The scenario above is very real and indeed plausible.  Many families have and will one day experience something very similar to this.  To prepare you and your family from natural or man-made disasters it is recommended to design, develop, and incorporate a Family Continuity Plan (FCP); it may one day save all of your lives.

As any prepper, for a natural disaster or a TEOTWAWKI event (or both), we all have the supplies and skills that we require.  Some of your skills may include hunting, trapping, gardening, cooking, or water purifying.  Your supplies most likely encompass food, water, shelter, fire-making material, light-sources, defensive gear, and tactical gear. But most importantly, you will need a Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) or what can be considered a Family Continuity Plan (FCP).  Hopefully you and your family have already communicated and implemented a FCP.  If you haven’t developed a FCP then I can guarantee that your plan to bug-out or even bug-in, will fail.  It will fail because the most likely scenario will have you out of town, on a business trip, when the SHTF and your wife and kids are not brushed up on your survival plan back home; they will be oblivious on what to do.  Or, you will be in the middle of a business day and your daughter will be at school.  The SHTF and all the teachers will be scrambling out the door to rescue their family and she will be alone; oblivious on what to do.  Your oldest child left home to be a resident student at New York University, SHTF. What is his plan to bug-out when another 9/11 happens?  You and your wife are at work, the SHTF and your two toddlers are at daycare and all forms of communications are down.  Which of you two will pick them up?  What happens when you get to the daycare and the building is vacant?  What happens when you arrive at your residence and no one is there? 3-hours pass and still no one arrives?  In this scenario you realize you either need to bug-out alone or get trapped in your city.  Your wife and two kids have not returned home, do you come up with a plan to find them?  You better have thought of all likely scenarios and communicated this well to your family members or your bug-out hideaway, fully stocked west of the Mississippi, becomes a null option at this point.  The most important thing you can do for yourself and your family will be to have a very well planned-out, well disseminated FCP with maps, driving/walking directions, rally points, and multiple Course of Actions (COAs) with a plan A, plan B, plan C, etc, for every possible scenario you can think of.

A COOP (Continuity of Operations Plan) is a government term for a detailed plan on how essential functions of an agency or business will be maintained when an emergency situation has disrupted normal operations.  You may have heard of a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) which is pretty much the same thing as a COOP, but more business lingo vice government.  Basically, these plans are written, fully thought-out and communicated procedures for a range of scenarios to keep an entity alive during serious catastrophes. These procedures will vary in scope.  For example, having a backup site in case headquarters becomes a smoking hole or who will be next in command if leadership is put out of action.  These procedures are thoroughly tested and disseminated down to every worker, soldier, cleaner, and cook.  After 9/11, how did corporations such as Bank of America, Verizon, Sun Microsystems, the N.Y. Stock Exchange, and other organizations survived?  These companies would not have survived without some type of COOP/BCP.
When I was researching Family Continuity Plans, I was shocked to learn there was not much information readily available on the topic.  Majority of the information were mere hand-out cards for your name, SSN, family member names, and most importantly an outside POC name and number of a relative or friend that could act as the communication point.  This information is good to have, but what happens if phone services and cell phone services are not operable during a disastrous event? 

In August of 2011, the East Coast experienced a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that hit outside of D.C. near Mineral, Virginia.  It was strong enough that the government facility I worked at was immediately evacuated.  The earthquake occurred around 2:00 PM while my wife and I were at work and our two children were in daycare.  I was able to get to my cell phone and LAN line within 15 minutes of the evacuation, but I was not able to reach my wife or daycare.  The main reason was that the entire East Coast populace was also trying to make calls on their cell phones and my local phone service was inoperable.  We didn’t lose phone service, it was completely tied up.  I immediately enacted our FCP; get to my children’s daycare ASAP.  During that time, I was trying to make contact with my wife with no success.  My wife and I are fortunate that we work approx. 7 miles from each other and the daycare is right smack in the middle.  As soon as I pulled into the driveway to our daycare another vehicle pulled in behind me; it was my wife.  Luckily there was no emergency at our daycare, everyone was unharmed and in fact both my kids were napping.  Words cannot express how ecstatic I was that our FCP actually worked without the need of a phone call.  Our FCP worked exactly how we documented, planned, and tested.  We were fortunate nothing major happened, but was given the chance to exercise our FCP in this real-world event. This helped us determine what worked, what didn’t and what needed to be improved.  We realized how important it would have been to have a couple of powerful CB radios to provide that gap in communication.  We now have one Cobra HH38 with external antennas in each vehicle and in the process of acquiring secondary CB radios.

You will find very little documentation online in regards to examples or a decent outline for your Family Continuity Plan.  A good starting point would be the COOP I stumbled across for the county of Walla Walla, in Washington State.  I actually used this as the outline to start my own FCP and just took out the business and government lingo. Their COOP included a checklist and inventory list.  I recommend using their COOP as your starting point.                   

When developing my family FCP, the following are six basic elements I considered:
1) Critical functions vs. non-critical functions
2) Threats
3) Scenarios
4) Planning
5) Testing
6) Maintenance

Critical functions vs. non-critical functions:

Non-critical functions are those items that you want, not what you need to sustain a family during a time of crisis.  Critical functions are needs that are required within your family to survive before, during and after a catastrophe.  Most family’s critical function lists will include water, food, and shelter while some lists will contain specific requirements such as mobility for those with paralysis, contacts/eyeglasses, diabetic equipment, heart medicine, or protection for those within your family that may have xeroderma pigmentosum. 


Once critical functions to survive have been identified, the next step is to analyze all potential threats that can slightly, moderately, or greatly impact the sustainability of your critical functions.  Threats can be hurricanes, tornadoes, earth quakes, floods, fires, terrorist attacks, an epidemic, civil war, World War III, you name it.  It is important to list all man-made and natural disasters that can potentially put your family at risk. 


Once threats have been listed, the next step is to run through impact scenarios.  For example, how will a major flood affect your community, affect your family’s ability to drive out of the area or affect your critical functions to survive?  In the event you and your family have enough warning prior to a large-scale flood, will you bug-in and fortify or will you bug-out to higher ground, perhaps to a different state?  When will your family bug-out in the event of a CAT 3 hurricane, during a hurricane watch or hurricane warning?  What happens when there is a major earthquake, loss of all communication, power, water, etc. and you and your family are at work, sporadically located throughout Los Angeles?  In the event of a mass fire and there is an exodus outside a major city, what roads are you evacuating through?  While evacuating through these roads your vehicle becomes disabled and you forgot to charge your GPS, do you have a physical map or printed out Google Maps to travel by foot?  What will you bring and what vehicle will be used?  Are your supplies already prepped at a bug-out site or in your garage for a quick and easy load?  How will you load each piece of equipment in your vehicle in 10 minutes before bugging-out?  What equipment will you take with you on foot when you run out of gas or blow two tires while evacuating with a fully loaded SUV and you are halfway to your FCP site?  Also, when will you activate your FCP? Unfortunately most individuals never contemplate the most critical time; right at the point of when the SHTF.  Understand that you may not have any warning at all; this is one of many things that a Family Continuity Plan identifies and solves for you.


Once you and your family proposed as many impact scenarios, no doubt generating multiple questions, it is time to bring a plan to the table.  In this portion of the FCP, you will be answering the questions generated from the “Scenarios” section.   This portion of the FCP will be the bulk of your plan; it will contain not only your plans but also any checklists, diagrams, step-by-step guides, and any critical pieces of information.  


After your plan and solutions have been put together, it will be critical to test your plan.  Testing your FCP will be the most important section.  Testing determines what portions of your FCP actually works and hopefully determines what doesn’t work.  Without simulating or putting parts of your plan into action you cannot be sure it is completely foolproof.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, you may get the chance to experience a real-world event that puts your plan, or portions of it, into action such as I did during the AUG 2011 earthquake.  During and after simulating your plan you will make corrections, modifications, subtract, and add to your plans.    


Lastly, there must be periodic maintenance of your plan.  10-years-ago your children were in high school, now they are married and have children of their own; you want your FCP to incorporate them as well. 
Your Family Continuity Plan should be thoroughly written down and well communicated to your entire family.  My fear is that a lot of folks have a general idea of where they would go, what specific gear they would bring but have not thoroughly formalized an actual plan during a time of crisis.  Therefore, I am sharing with you how my wife and I started our FCP as an example and offer a modified version of one of our Course of Actions (COAs) in hopes it will help you develop your FCP. 

First, we referred to the six elements of a Family Continuity Plan.  We wrote down all of the critical elements in our family that are required to sustain us through any environmental threat.  In this process, you will create a checklist for your family’s needs. This checklist will be part of your FCP as a guide when your memory fails to function during a crisis.  Remember the difference between a need and a want.  Your needs are the most critical supplies to sustain your family’s life and will be with you when the decision is made to drop excess supplies.  We split all of our gear into three categories; high, medium, and low.  High inventory identified our critical supplies while medium was placed on supplies we could last for some time.  Low was given to everything else; we plan and equip for all three types of supplies but now we know what the priorities are.  We listed typical supplies such as food, water, shelter, clothing, specific-medicine, emergency rucksack, contacts and eyeglasses, radios, and self-defense equipment, (to name a few items).  We wrote down necessary skills that we either have or will need during and after a crisis.  Skills such as cooking, applying medical treatment, self-defense, gun operations, safety, security, gardening, engine repair, wilderness survival, map reading, direction finding, cleaning, building, repairing, and so forth.  Remember that skills will be more important than the actual supplies.  It would be pointless after the SHTF trying to throw down your 5-year collection of assorted seeds on the ground if you have never gardened in your life.  Once your critical functions have been identified and written down, you then have an idea of what items that are missing or lacking in your survival plan.  If you have no idea how to cook but your wife does, I would recommend you learn that skill.  Your FCP should have a plan if you or your significant other passes away during a catastrophic event.  Imagine you are the only one in your family that knows how to shoot and reload your handgun, shotgun, and long-rifle; what happens when you kick-the-bucket during a crisis?  Imagine your wife is the only person in your family that knows how to operate, maintain, and drive your Class A RV, and 3-weeks after a nuclear attack, she passes away from radiation sickness.  Remember, don’t think just because you know how to do something is enough, what if you’ve been removed from the picture and your wife needs to turn off the main water line before there is a septic backflow into your house?  A critical piece to a Business Continuity Plan or COOP is the succession of leadership and skills between top-level management down to the worker-bees.  It’s the business idea that if leadership is unable to perform their duties within a COOP scenario, the next in line has been educated and trained to pick up where they left off.  It’s the business idea of not having only one technical expert at their main center.  They will have additional trained experts and some strategically placed at their COOP site when the “smoking hole” scenario occurs.  Same analogy applies to your family COOP; don’t put all your 9mm ammo in one basket. 

Once your essential family items and skills are identified, come up with a laundry list of threats that could greatly impact the fabrics of your family’s life.  Think of them all, even that zombie apocalypse stirring in the back of your mind if you wish.  First, focus your attention on the threats that are more realistic or more likely to occur in your environment and then expand out. For my family here in Virginia Beach, our primary threats are hurricanes, flooding, and the occasional severe winter storm.  We may have threats such as tornadoes, fires, tropical storms, wind storms, terrorist attacks, nuclear incident/attacks, and tsunamis that could one day affect us.  It would be wise to imagine as many threats as possible – even the ones that may seem remotely impossible.  Would there be any reason why South Dakota would ever need to be prepared for a volcanic disaster?  If Yellowstone ever took off, the great folks of SD would be in some serious trouble.  The likelihood of this ever happening is less likely to happen but the chance is still there – better to be prepared for it vice having the SHTF and you are standing there SYP (Schumering Your Pants).  As you develop your threats you will see that your Family Continuity Plan may support multiple threats.  Portions of your FCP during a sever flood may mirror your family plan for a hurricane.  Realize that some threats will affect your ability to bug-in or bug-out even if your sole plan is to head out to your fully-stocked cabin in the Appalachian Mountains. 

Now that you have identified your critical infrastructure and your threats, the long and sometimes complicated part of meshing your critical elements and threats into scenarios begins.  You run every scenario and every possibility that could happen within an event and document solutions; this will ultimately be your plan.  For example, you and your family have decided to bug-out when the SHTF in Arkansas.  Unfortunately your city is experiencing an unexpected large-scale flooding, all roads are under 5-feet of water, and your vehicles are floating down the street.  In this scenario, your ability to access your bug-out hideout is null; this is the reason why you plan for everything.  If you did it right, you would not only have a good bug-out strategy but a very solid bug-in plan with the works.   

My wife and I identified multiple scenarios and have varied plans for numerous crises.  I have them all ranked out from Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, etc.  Plan A basically states that in the event that I am at work, my wife is at work, my son is at day care, and my daughter is at school (a typical work week for us) and the SHTF, my wife and I immediately bee-line it to our son’s daycare.  At the daycare we gather our son, transfer her bug-out bag, CB radio, and other equipment from her vehicle to my truck and we proceed to our daughter’s school.  Once we have picked up our daughter we continue to our house. Depending on the threat, we begin our bug-in or bug-out plan.  Example: let’s say the threat is a CAT 4 hurricane warning similar to the devastating Hurricane Ike in 2008.  Our FCP dictates we would enact our bug-out plan to the Appalachian Mountain region.  (In reality my family would not have been at work or daycare, in fact we would have already hit the road heading west, but for this scenario let’s say we waited until the last minute.)  Once we enter the house, my wife immediately starts packing our clothes, toiletries, snacks, and drinks with the help of our children to keep them occupied.  I immediately back my truck into my garage where we have all of our emergency supplies stored.  This is all of our tactical gear, light, fire-starting equipment, cooking equipment, water purification supplies, shelter, etc., secured in multiple 35 gallon Rubbermaid Cargo boxes.  We have multiple 24-gallon Rubbermaid Cargo boxes that contain over 5-months’ worth of food and water along with our rucksack containing all of our medial gear/supplies, stored in one of our guest rooms for proper heating/cooling.  Each container has an updated inventory list secured underneath each lid.  Part of my Family Continuity Plan has a diagram of my truck bed and roof rack with specific locations for every piece of our equipment.  I spent weeks on our truck bed/roof rack diagram determining the best location for each piece of equipment with the most critical and most useful supplies quickly accessible. These supplies consist of bug-out tools while on the road such as chainsaws, gas tanks, shovel, rope/chain, and a couple of bug-out backpacks to quickly grab in case we would need to evacuate the truck in a hurry.  It is guaranteed if you wait for the last minute to throw all of your gear into your vehicle you will forget something important such as your fire-safe chest containing all of your families’ passports, SSN cards, birth certificates, home and vehicle paperwork, and insurance information.  Or, worst case scenario, you will be wasting-away precious time trying to squeeze your gear into your vehicle while the entire city already bugged out, blocking your escape routes.  Come up with a load plan now, document it, study it, and then test it while there is ample time. 
Based on the level of the threat, a hurricane CAT 4 in this scenario, I would initiate turning off the power, gas, and water; after filling all three bathtubs in our home.  Once the threat subsided, we would attempt a return back to our residence.  If our main water line to the house was down, I would use the water in the bathtub for sanitation purposes.  Continuing with the scenario, my wife and I finalize the loading plan and head off to our destination, Roanoke, Virginia.  We have multiple plans as to which roads we will take to reach our destination.  One plan has us using a mix of major highways and state highways such as Highway 64 for a few hours and then cut over on Highway 60.  Another plan has us using mostly state highways and county highways such as Highway 58 and then up Highway 220.  It is important to plan multiple routes to any destination.  We have a large map for the State of Virginia, a topography map, maps of neighboring states and a couple of Rand McNally Atlases.  We have quite a few Google Maps with step-by-step directions (even on foot) to get us to our destination.  Once we get to our destination we are still not done. We have documented plans on where we will be staying, what our chores will be, and how we would rotate security if need be.  After 48 hours of reaching Roanoke our plan dictates that my three brother-in-laws and I (my family plan actually consists of more than just one family) will pack enough equipment and supplies to head back to Va. Beach and bunker down until it is safe enough for the rest of the party to return.

However, if the city of Roanoke began to collapse for whatever reason our FCP continues on with further plans and instructions to start our trek to Arizona.  Arizona was selected due to one, being west of the Mississippi (less population than the east coast) and two, because a large part of my family resides there. 

Our FCP provides step by step directions on which highways or roads we would use to get to the state of Arizona in a timely and secured fashion.  I have specific locations of towns and gasoline stops marked along the way that I would attempt to get to.  My wife and I fully realize, depending on what type of threat we are experiencing, that we would most likely run out of gas before reaching either Arkansas or Oklahoma.  We have documentation that tells us what supplies we would bring, which roads that lead or follow bodies of water, maps of railroads, and information on towns along the way.  Again, depending on the threat-level we may need to stay away from large cities and we may not be welcomed in very small towns so we plan for it.    

You can quickly begin to see how, in some cases, this can be a complicated and frustrating process.  With so many events that can happen, how can you, we, possibly respond to all of them?  The truth of the matter is, you can’t – it would be impossible.  Take things simple at first, start with the most plausible event and start your plan there.  We started all of our plans at the very moment when the SHTF.  Meaning, during a regular week I would be at work and so would my wife and our children would be at school and daycare.  From that specific moment, we branched out and brain stormed as many possibilities and jotted down solutions for each.  Once you have a plan, you can then build your supply-chain, gear, paperwork and the entire infrastructure.  I started off by providing only one, modified, scenario in my FCP above but we actually have quite a few.  Some of our plans are procedures during the weekend when my family is mostly together. On the few occasions I have gone on a business trip, or my wife, we have a plan for that as well.  Of course, factors depend on where our trip takes us and how we got there (plane vs. rental vehicle).  The important thing is you are communicating your FCP to your partner/family and documenting your plan.  Use your experience to determine some possible scenarios, use the advice from friends and families as a source of information.  Research online and review the news to see how people react during a time of crisis.  Take the tragic events you read online and incorporate those scenarios into your Family Continuity Plan.  As you become more aware, your plan starts to mature, you will add more information, add more plans, and you will alter situations due to your family getting larger or kids growing up.  Once your plan is on paper, test it, and periodically maintain it. 

If you are not sure if your plan works, give it a shot.  Turn off the power and water to your house (we have in the past but we kept the gas on so we wouldn’t have to call a tech from VA Natural Gas) during a weekend and see how your family reacts.  On a weekend, take a slow trip to your bug-out hideout stopping along the way to admire the sites between your home and bug-out site.  You never know – you may be camping at those sites when the SHTF and your bugging out to your FCP site on foot.  Take your family out to as many camping trips as you can. Learn and teach them how to build basic shelter, learn basic fire-making processes, learn to cook with basic tools, and teach the proper handling and safety of your defensive gear.  Build a garden box in your backyard and learn how to grow fruits and vegetables – let your kids be part of this.  Take simple trips out of town and learn what types of equipment, entertainment, and clothing your family needs for the haul and incorporate/adjust your plan as needed.  Your prep plan may rely heavily on a generator when the power goes out, kill the power to your house and run off of it for three days straight and see how the generator really operates.  Remember, testing your Family Continuity Plan is equally important as the plan itself and maintaining your FCP will be just as important. Before the dust collects on your plan take it out every few months and clean it up.  Periodic maintenance on your FCP will ensure it is up to date with your most current supplies, new tools, new vehicles, new members, loss of a member, or even new skills that your family has acquired.  As your children get older, their ability to share the load becomes greater, don’t forget to incorporate those changes. 

In conclusion, ultimately it’s not a matter of “if” a SHTF event will happen but a matter of “when”. Develop a Family Continuity Plan. Teamwork, attention to details, and having a strong psychology to survive are everyday components which should be carried over during a time of crisis.  Teamwork - your chances to live are greatly increased when you add multiple families and at a larger scale.  A community unites when there is a common interest to take care of their families and yours.  If you are a loner and plan to be a loner in the wilderness, your chances of survival are greatly reduced.  Realize that most small bands of families or even communities will hesitate in trusting you or taking you in.  Attention to details – paying attention to detail involves trusting your eyes, ears, taste, and that nagging feeling in the back of your head.  It is the skill of combining all of your senses with common sense in making a decision.  Psychology to survive - I once read a great manual (U.S. Army Field Manual, FM 3-05.70) that states that no matter how much water, food, shelter, or security you have – if you lack the psychology to survive, you will die.  This bleeds into having a positive outlook in everything no matter the cost.  There will be times you will feel sadness, anger, and remorse, but your core needs to be imbued with positive thinking.

I hope sharing my Family Continuity Plan ignites your interest to think, develop and enact a plan for yours. Preparing and planning for the future is always wise.  However, don’t get too caught up with the future and with events we have no control over.  I know people who spend so much of their time and energy storing ammo and beef jerky but forget to live for the day.  We can make ourselves better by being prepared, but don’t let it take you away from reality.  The important thing is that you spend time with your family and friends. A great husband, wife, mom, dad, brother, sister, kids, friends do not come written in a book or COOP plan, they come from living life and doing the right thing.

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This page contains a single entry by Jim Rawles published on November 1, 2012 12:11 AM.

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