A vital and sometimes often overlooked aspect of emergency preparedness planning is communications. We have become a society dependent upon technology. We’ve also become co-dependent on being able to reach our loved ones instantaneously. Depending on the event, you could lose all forms of traditional communication in the blink of an eye. Consider that the most common form of communication in today’s world is the cell phone. Now think back to our lessons learned from the tragedy of September 11th. It has been well documented that in the New York City and National Capital Region, cell phone communication capabilities were completely overwhelmed. No cell phone calls were possible for hours.
How would you communicate with your loved ones during an emergency event? Have you discussed your plans for getting and staying in touch? Have you considered and planned for alternative means of communicating? Do you have a plan?
Keep in mind these general tips for creating family communications plans. 1) Make sure you have a method to account for family members. Check well in advance to verify how your children’s daycare will announce any closings or other emergency messages. Also look into these same areas if you have any loved ones in assisted living circumstances. What if your children attend any kind of summer camp? Do you know how they will communicate status updates during emergencies? Does your spouse’s place of business offer a method of status updates either online or via an 800 number? These are all valid questions and it is your responsibility to ask in advance.
2) One of the lessons learned from the 9/11 communication outages was that while in-state calls (landline) could not be made, out-of-state calls were often successful. Keep this in mind and pay honor to those who lost their lives that day. Lets not only learn but utilize these tactics. Be sure to designate an out-of-state contact (family or friend) to receive phone calls and track the whereabouts of your loved ones. We use my Mama, who knows the protocol and has willingly accepted this responsibility. My husband and I both know to call her with reports on ourselves and/or the children ASAP. My local in-laws have been instructed to do the same. We have one child in daycare and one in elementary school. It’s vital that if the event occurs during the work/school day, we don’t duplicate efforts. Any new updates of “retrieved” children go directly to my Mama. Also, consider that quite often (we can’t safely say always) when cell phone calls won’t go through during an event, SMS messages or text messages will be successful. This is important to keep in mind if you are technology resistant and have so far held texting capabilities at bay. Consider at least ensuring the capability is enabled for your cellular device.
3) Every family member (or loved one) must carry an emergency contact card A template for these cards can be found at www.ready.gov. (Although you can easily make your own version based on what you need to include on the card.) These are vital especially for young children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, and anyone with serious medical conditions. These cards contain information such as full name, home address, emergency relocation sites, emergency contact information (your out-of-state contact), date of birth, medical conditions, medications (to include dosages and dosages times), medical insurance information, and parental/guardian contact information (as applicable). These cards should be in a location so that they remain on the person where possible and close by if not. Keep them in your wallet or purse. A child’s backpack or cubby. Consider laminating them so that they are protected from water related events.
Lastly, consider alternative means of communications. Think outside the box but just inside of soup cans and string. No matter what you plan for it needs to be feasible for you and your means. Consider the texting options as mentioned. Consider push-to-talk technology which also remains operable during emergency events. We also learned from 9/11 that blackberry pin to pin communications worked. Lastly, consider personal radio service (PRS) options, which are many. If you are interested in these please see the FCC website which will give greater details of your options as well as any licensure requirements (http://www.fcc.gov/guides/personal-radio-services-prs-keeping-touch).
And on that note, I’ve been able to sway the powers that be (also known as my husband) into supporting my new quest to obtain a ham radio license. This a means of alternative communication that I’ve considered extremely important for emergency preparedness for some time. Now that I have this blog, and you guys…he’s ready to support my our next step towards preparedness. So…I’m starting my research. I took my day off today to get some reference books and to scout some rather useful websites. The next steps are to complete my research, learn all of the requirements as far as knowledge and hardware, and then of course obtain my license. I’m going to take you all along for the ride. I’ll let you know what is going on each step of the way. In the end we will have both learned something, I’ll have added an invaluable piece of communication capability to my family’s preparedness plan, and hopefully inspired you to do so as well.