Talking with your family and neighbors about what to do if a natural disaster occurs is the starting point for being prepared.

If you haven't done this, now is the time. Here's a plan for families to consider in preparing for a disaster:

Pick two places to meet – one near your home in case of fire, for example, and one outside your neighborhood if you can't get home. Families should carry a card with the addresses and phone numbers of the designated meeting places.

Ask about emergency plans at the places where your family spends the most time – schools, day-care centers, workplaces, nursing homes or other facilities and how families are contacted in a crisis. Also find out if there are adequate emergency supplies, if there's a “shelter-in-place” should the need arise and if there's an evacuation site if it's necessary. If a plan doesn't exist, volunteer to help develop one.

Designate an out-of-state relative or friend to be the central contact person. Put that person's name, address and phone number in writing for each family member to carry at all times and make it available to the people with whom your children or aging relatives spend time (this is included in the cutout card).

Initiate the plan

Create a checklist of things you'll need and need to do in an emergency; do what you can in advance; rehearse your plan as a family and update information every six months.

Explore with your children the Ready website for kids where they can do activities and test their knowledge about disaster preparation. They also will find things to pack in their own disaster-supplies backpack (crayons, favorite books, scissors and glue, deck of cards, doll or stuffed animal, puzzles) to help them feel comforted and stay occupied in an emergency.

You can find checklists, preprinted forms to fill out and other useful information at: – U.S. Department of Homeland Security – Ready website for kids – American Red Cross