National Preparedness Month is an important chance for all of us to come together as families and communities to consider how we can better protect ourselves and others in the event of a sudden emergency. In observance of this month, we at SelectCare have dedicated all of our September blogs to different aspects of emergency preparation. This week, we look at the importance of emergency and communication plans that will help families stay safe when the unexpected strikes.
The bonds of family and friendship are incredibly powerful, and when a loved one’s safety is uncertain, people will go to amazing, sometimes dangerous lengths in order to help. While rash action and quick thinking might help those you care most about, it also puts you at incredible risk during an emergency situation, potentially making a bad situation even worse.
Rather than scrambling to locate loved ones when a disaster strikes, families benefit greatly from planning for emergencies in advance. Simply spending an hour reviewing emergency plans twice a year with your loved ones can spare your family hours, days, or even weeks of uncertainty and fear if an emergency event leaves a member of your family separated.
A good family emergency plan should answer all of the following questions:
- How will my family get emergency alerts and warnings?
- How will my family get to safe locations for relevant emergencies?
- How will my family get in touch if cell phone, internet, or landline communication doesn’t work?
- How will I let loved ones know I am safe?
- How will my family get to a meeting place after the emergency?
Emergency Communication and Alerts
When building a family emergency plan, it is important to consider how your family will learn an emergency is in progress. A great emergency plan will not do much good if no one in your household knows to activate it.
To that end, it is critical that every family member has the ability to receive emergency alerts. Fortunately, it does not take much technical prowess to receive these critical messages. At the national level, the Wireless Emergency Alert system sends plain-text alerts to mobile devices, marking their arrival with a unique (and extremely loud) sound.
Locally, New York City residents and families can sign up for Notify NYC, which can be tailored to send alerts for specific types of emergencies and edited to only send alerts if the event impacts a part of the city in which one typically spends time.
Check the following link for further information about the Wireless Emergency Alert System.
Collect Contact Information
Quick, recount the work, school, and mobile numbers for every member of your immediate family – no peeking at your phone. Now, imagine trying to do that in the midst of a hurricane, earthquake, or other emergency. It’s a well-documented fact that people do not perform at their best when under extreme stress. As a result, it is highly recommended that every member of your family has a physical list of contact information for the entire household. Not only should this information be stored in each family member’s emergency go-bag, but another copy should also be kept readily available in a central location in your home. These contact lists should include the following information:
- Phone numbers (work, cell, office)
- Email addresses
- Social media account names (for use as an alternate means of communication)
- Medical facilities, doctors, and medical service provider contact information
- School address/place of employment and contact numbers
- Any medical conditions or prescriptions a first responder should know about
For additional information and templates for emergency contact lists, see the following links:
- Family Communication Plan (for adults)
- Family Communication Plan (for kids)
- Emergency Plan Information for Mass Transit Commuters
- Emergency Communication Wallet Cards
Getting in Touch
When thinking about communication among family members, it is also important to remember that emergency events often result in large numbers of calls being made in a small geographic area, sometimes shutting down phone service temporarily. As a result, it is highly recommended that emergency communication among family members should be done by text message. Text messages will save on your phone until you have access to wireless service and are not impacted when traditional telephone systems are swamped, resulting in much more reliable communication.
Remember that many people have not grown up alongside text messaging, and thus it is critical that all family members practice text messaging prior to an emergency so they can quickly send understandable messages to individuals and your family’s group messaging list.
Have an Out-of-Town Message Center
During an emergency, family members might not be able to communicate in real time for a variety of reasons. While sending texts is one way to work around this problem, back up plans are critical to successful emergency planning. As a result, it is recommended that your family emergency plan includes contact information for a relative or family friend who lives outside of your city/state and can serve as a “message center” in order to relay information as needed. Since they will likely be out of harm’s way, this person can focus their efforts on communication while your family focuses on reaching safety.
Have Multiple Meeting Points
Emergency situations can be extremely fluid. Depending on the type and severity of an emergency, it might be necessary for family members to evacuate their home for a safer location – but where? Answering this question is one of the most important aspects of a family emergency plan.
Your family emergency plan should include three types of meeting location outside your home:
- In Your Neighborhood: If the emergency is limited to your home or block, use a local meeting point that is a short distance from your home (a local coffee shop, specific street corner or stoop within walking distance of your home).
- Outside Your Neighborhood: For emergencies that make your entire neighborhood (or travelling to your neighborhood) unsafe, your family should have a meeting point located outside your immediate neighborhood, like a school, place of worship, or family friend’s house.
- Outside Your Borough/Town/City: For extreme emergencies that impact your entire hometown, it is important that you have a meeting point outside of the area, like the home of a family member or friend.
Reaching Your Meeting Point
Not only should everyone in your home know where to go, they should also know how they will reach the location. If reaching a meeting point requires extensive travel, be sure everyone has more than one way they could realistically reach a location during an emergency.
When picking meeting points for your family, consider the following factors:
- Meeting points should be safe, familiar locations that everyone in your home can reach on their own
- If anyone in your household has access or mobility limitations, be sure your meeting points can cater to these needs
- If travelling with pets or service animals, be sure they will be welcomed at the meeting point before choosing the location
- Remember that different emergencies will result in different locations being considered “safe” i.e. an open baseball field is a great place to meet in case of a fire or earthquake, but will provide no shelter in the event of an extreme blizzard or hurricane. Understand your local hazards and choose locations that will protect against these specific threats.
For a complete list of Family Emergency Communication Plan tips, be sure to review this 8-page FEMA guide.
We at SelectCare appreciate the interest and enthusiasm of our community members throughout National Preparedness Month. To learn more about how our staff plans for the unexpected and protects our clients, call us today.