Do You Know What You’d Do? 4 Emergency Scenarios Parents Need To Be Prepared For

computer and notebook
Preparing beforehand can be the key to surviving one of these emergencies!

Please know this post is not intended to scare anyone.  I strongly believe that discussing emergency scenarios such as these is important because in many cases, having a plan can save your life and the lives of your family members.  These scenarios are rare and statistically very unlikely to happen to you, so please don’t lose sleep.  But do think about it and talk about it.  It is my hope that you’ll actually feel more comfortable, knowing you’ve taken steps to reduce your risk.  With that in mind, in this post we’ll look at four dangerous and scary emergency scenarios that families might encounter, and how to mentally prepare ahead of time to give you and your family the best chance for survival.  


Let me start by saying that I am not a first responder or professionally trained in the following topics, so none of the below should be considered professional advice.  Please consult the appropriate professionals for additional information!

While they don’t apply to all of the emergency scenarios below, there are a couple human tendencies that we need to be aware of.  The first is normalcy bias, or the mental inclination to believe that everything (including the sound of gunshots or people screaming) is normal.  We may first think of fireworks, for example, even if that explanation makes no sense for the situation.  This bias prevents us from panicking at every sound, but it can also keep us from acting quickly when needed.

In addition, there is a tendency towards herd mentality if we are not prepared.  According to A Mother Far From Home, “research has shown that when placed in unknown situations, we’ll follow the lead of anyone who appears to know what they’re doing.”  This can be unhelpful because many people will freeze up in emergency scenarios because they are in shock of what’s happening.  For almost all of these situations, acting quickly is the key to survival.   

With that in mind, here are the four emergency scenarios:

1)  Active Shooter

If you only remember one thing:  “Run, Hide, Fight”

people at train station
Active shooter situations can happen any wear, so try to maintain some level of situation awareness.

Regardless of motive, these events are truly terrifying because of their seeming randomness.  All too often we hear of shootings at schools, malls, and movie theaters.  Places we go every day.  Staying home instead is not the answer, so take a few moments to think about what you would do, especially when you’re out with your kids.

One great place to start is maintaining some level of situational awareness.  Don’t get so caught up in what you’re doing (absorbed in your smart phone, for example) that you don’t know what’s going on around you.  Our kids often take all of our attention when we’re out and about, and that’s normal and good, but still keep an eye out.  We’ve also all heard the phrase “if you see something, say something.”  It’s typically associated with airport safety, but applies anywhere.  If something feels off, leave.  When and if appropriate, tell someone.

If you do get caught up in an active shooter scenario (this strategy would also apply to many other weapons), the experts recommend first trying to get away from the situation if at all possible.  The sooner you recognize danger, the easier this is, hence the plug for situational awareness.  If escaping isn’t possible or seems extremely dangerous, hiding (and barricading the door) is the next best option.  Fighting is usually the last resort.  This article goes through the basics of “run, hide, fight,” with extra considerations for parents with small kids.

2) Home Fire

If you remember only one thing:  “Get out immediately.” 

Firefighters spraying fire
Every room should have two ways out (including windows and doors).

This page by the National Fire Protection Association runs down the basics, but in short, you’ll want to make a plan that works for your home, ideally identifying two ways out of every room (including doors and windows).  Depending on your layout, one or more second floor escape ladders may be advised.  Then, identify a meeting spot outside the house (specify a neighbor’s lawn, etc.).  You’ll also want to make sure your smoke detectors have fresh batteries (test them once a month).  Be aware that there is research indicating that sleeping children don’t always awaken to smoke alarms.  Finally, a fire extinguisher (or two) in your home is a good idea, but read this to ensure you know when to use it (for a small, easily contained fire) — the priority is always to get out immediately.

3) Home Intruder

If you only remember one thing: “Have a plan.” 

Lady holding gun
What’s YOUR plan if an intruder enters your home?

Ladies, do NOT skip this one because your husband has it covered.  You need to consider what you would do if he’s not home.  Business trips happen.  Boys’ nights happen.  What would YOU do?  It’s also a good idea to have a detailed discussion about who does what if you’re both home.  You don’t want to be figuring out the details and wasting valuable time in the moment.

This short video will get you started, but as the reporter suggests, you’ll need to make your own plan for your family and your house.  Then practice it once in a while so everyone has some idea of what to do, including the kids (if age appropriate).  After reading several websites discussing home intruder preparedness plans, here’s my take on the basics:

Making a Home Plan

~ Have the essentials nearby and ready:  charged phone, bright (like blinding) flashlight, gun(s) if you own them (secured from kids but quickly and easily accessible) or other defense tool.  *More on guns below.

~ Everyone has a task.  For example, dad grabs a weapon and provides cover for mom to move kids to safe room and call 911, then dad goes to safe room.  Have an obvious code word (like “danger”) that kids KNOW means they need to comply NOW.

~ Where to hide? Pick a room (and have a backup).  While most articles on the topic encourage you to fortify this room, at the very least it should have a lock and you should be able to further barricade the door once inside.  It’s also helpful to be able to get out of the house from that room if needed.  Think portable fire escape ladder.

~ While different articles say different things, it is generally not advisable to try to “clear” the house.  This is an incredibly dangerous task for law enforcement and military teams trained in it.  Let the police do it!

The following are two websites that give some suggestions for making a home plan.  This is a great one to start with (home plan #1).  The second is a bit more aggressive and rougher in tone — I don’t particularly care for some parts of it — but I am including it because it includes some good tactical suggestions (home plan #2).  If the tone or some of the details don’t appeal to you, please just take in the useful info and move on.

* A word on guns

I don’t want to get political in this post, and so I won’t say much more on the topic.  I just wanted to point out that the articles I have linked to that discuss home invasion preparation plans are both from pro-gun websites because those are the websites that I was able to find with home invasion preparation plans.    If you own gun(s), make sure they are properly secured away from your kids, that you know how to use them safely, and that you know the local/state laws concerning their use.

4) Sinking Vehicle

If you only remember one thing:  “Seatbelt, Windows, Children, Out!”

cars on bridge
If you drive near water or areas that flood, make sure you know “seatbelt, windows, children, out.”

There is a lot of bad information out there on how to escape a sinking vehicle.  I remember hearing “wait until the car is submerged then open the door” (does that even make sense?).  That is NOT what to do.  Seatbelts should be off and the windows open the second you know you’re going in.  For one adult to get out doesn’t seem too unreasonably difficult, but if you have kids in car seats it will be a bit more hairy.  Watch this video to get the details along with a demonstration, and invest in a window break tool to ensure the windows aren’t an issue.  We have this kind (one for each car) but there are many different options.  Make sure it’s easily accessible!


As I mentioned in the beginning, these emergency scenarios are extremely rare in the US considering our population.  300-400 car-related drownings per year, for example, is a lot, but still literally a one-in-a-million chance of happening to any individual person.  So please don’t panic or stress, but do think about it and encourage others to do so as well!


“Basic Fire Escape Planning,” The National Fire Protection Association —

“How to Protect Your Children in an Active Shooter Situation,” A Mother Far From Home —

“What to Do:  Car Sinking in Water, Only Seconds to React,” ABC News —

“Do You Know What To Do During a Home Invasion?” ABC News —

“5 Tips For Preparing A Defense Against Home Invasion,” The Truth About Guns —

“Home Invasion Defense Guide,” —

This post contain affiliate links.  Please read my disclaimer and affiliate links policy here.