Personal Disaster Strikes! Who You Gonna Call?
Don’t Wait. Communicate. Make Your Emergency Communications Plan Today
So, you’ve got your disaster pack(s) ready and waiting. Or maybe you’re not there yet.
Local emergency management offices, FEMA and the Red Cross (to name a mere few) offer a number of planning and preparedness solutions. They’re pretty straightforward — in preparation for a disaster, pack an emergency kit with enough supplies to keep you self-sufficient until help arrives. Once done, take a few minutes to round out your plan by cinching up potential personal communications issues.
The classic area of improvement for events and disasters, large and small, but especially large, is communications. Sometimes the issues are technology-based but more often than not, human nature tends to serve as the greater, if softer, impediment to effective communication. Think 9/11 and the aftermath of large-scale natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina. It’s hard to imagine a shortage of communications in this day and age, but pause for a moment to think about the average day.
Minus your cell phone. Without electricity. No Internet access. No television.
Whether an extended power outage or severe natural hazard, communications are generally compromised. Consider these tips for making yourself and your communications more resilient:
Update contacts. If you don’t carry an address book then there is a good chance that some of your most cherished contacts are stored in your phone and only in your phone. Backing them up in a cloud or alternative off-site location is a good plan for the long term, but in the disaster moment, think about how this will play out if/when your phone dies or is otherwise rendered useless. A lot can happen in a disaster environment to render your phone unavailable for use. Make sure you have up-to-date information for anyone you may need to get in touch with during a disaster and write it down somewhere. Take a few minutes to create a wallet size directory and, while you’re at it, make copies for your preparedness kits. One common preparation tip is to identify a faraway contact that you and your loved ones can contact when unable to connect directly after an event.
Back up Your Back-up. Backup power is a basic measure you might already be on top of for day-to-day use, but consider a more sustainable approach such as a nifty crank-generated energy system. (See image in Radio-Up as example.)
Think neighborly. Host a planning get-together with your neighbors to determine who might need help during calamity and to identify the resources and skill sets different folks have to offer. Programs like Map Your Neighborhood offer a template for an event like this, but many communities use the same principles to create their own programs.
Register your cell. These days most communities rely on a local mass notification system used by officials to deliver calls, texts and emails to residents. Landline phone numbers are automatically included, which presents a challenge since hardline phone use is on the decrease. Regardless, one must typically register personal cell numbers themselves into local mass notification systems — a process referred to as opt-in.
Resurrect the rotary. Landline customers might be a dying breed, but those with service through certain residential phone providers can reduce the likelihood of losing phone service by keeping a rotary dial phone on hand for power outages. Though many companies have migrated to VOIP and other internet- and power-reliant systems, others still rely on old copper wire technology, a low voltage system which functions during power outages. It is true that phone lines can also go down during severe events, but one can reduce the likelihood of losing phone service with this simple investment.
Radio up. HAM radios are a whole different conversation unto itself, but emergency radios don’t require a special license and generally boast a redundant power feature such as a crank/battery or 120v/battery combination. Weather radios are used to receive alerts issued via the federal system, as well as continuous weather and marine information, while other models include AM/FM radio. Factoid: Weather Service transmissions feature a female voice for marine-related conditions, and a male voice for those on land.
Talk it up. Don’t get so caught up in the technical aspects of communication that our most powerful tool is forgotten: conversation. By informing others, asking questions and sharing ideas, each of us plays an ongoing role in our own preparedness as well as the important work of building community resilience.
WeSeeHSE: Seeing, Sharing, Informing
The “Map Your Neighborhood” program was developed and copyrighted by LuAn K. Johnson, PhD. Used with permission by the WA State Emergency Management Public Education Department. http://mil.wa.gov/uploads/pdf/MYN-Overview.pdf