Tips from the People at CIVICPLUS

What is Community Emergency Preparedness?

Community preparedness refers to community-wide efforts to give citizens the training, education, and resources they need to prepare in advance against the threat of a possible local disaster at an individual and collective level.

According to, studies on personal preparedness have shown that individuals who believe they are prepared for disasters often are not as prepared as they think, while others admit they have not developed any type of personal preparedness plan.

The Challenge for Local Government

Despite the frequency of stories seen on the news that prove the devastation of unexpected natural disasters or local violence, local governments struggle to impart to residents the importance of preparedness. The optimistic hope that an unexpected disaster could never destroy one’s home or hurt one’s family, is a difficult misperception to overcome. The goal of community preparedness is to maximize residents’ awareness of the importance of proactive planning and encourage participation in disaster preparedness activities.

Tips for Improving Community Emergency Preparedness

1. Partner with Local Resources

Begin your planning by identifying local emergency response organizations and leaders and asking them to be part of your education and planning efforts.

2. Recruit Residents for Participation

Use all available communication channels to recruit members of your community to participate in your community emergency response team (CERT).

3. Schedule Regular Group Meetings

Once you’ve recruited residents to participate in your preparedness team, schedule regular meetings that are always open for others to join and attend. The first primary objective of the group should be to develop a disaster preparedness plan. By engaging residents in the planning process, they will be more likely to encourage friends, family, and neighbors to get involved and will help spread your message of the importance of individual and community preparation.

4. Identify Community Members with Special Needs

Make sure your emergency planning takes into consideration seniors, children, and community members with special needs. Identify all the senior centers, assisted living facilities, daycare centers, schools, and adult day habilitation centers in your community. Work with their leadership to make sure you have a plan in place if such facilities need to be evacuated or receive urgent care.

5. Educate Residents on Individual Home Preparedness

Create and promote educational materials that offer residents tips and best practices for protecting their homes. For example, all residents should have a functional fire extinguisher in their home, as well as a carbon monoxide detector. Residents should know how to turn off home utilities such as gas, electricity, and water in the event of an emergency. Communicate the location of nearby warm and cool shelters, and include a map or listing of such facilities on your local government website for easy access.

6. Implement an Emergency Notification System

Once you’ve effectively established emergency response protocols, you’ll need an effective mass notification system to notify residents when a disaster has occurred or is imminent. Make sure you choose a system that leverages FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) to maximize the reach of communications to travelers and residents who have not already opted in to receive emergency notifications.

7. Encourage Signups for the Emergency Notification System

Again, using all available marketing channels, encourage citizens to opt-in to receive emergency notifications via your chosen mass communication solution. An ideal system will let residents choose how they want to be notified—either via email, text message/SMS, or voicemail. Allowing residents to choose their notification channel helps ensure that when a message is distributed, residents receive it and respond.

8. Establish and Communicate Evacuation Procedures

In the event of a disaster that requires the evacuation of your community, you’ll need to plan an evacuation procedure and make sure residents are aware of the process as well. Distribute evacuation maps along with resident utility bills, and post maps on your local government website so that residents become familiar with all the major and alternate evacuation routes that lead out of your area.


Emergency preparedness saves lives. No matter how prepared your community becomes, you can’t prevent an unexpected local disaster, but you can prepare for one. By involving residents in the planning process, regularly communicating the availability of safety information, and subscribing to a robust emergency notification system, you’ll be doing everything in your power to keep citizens and their homes safe.