Saturday, March 17, 2012

Family Disaster Planning and Communication

       Our communication needs as families are going to be considerably different.   When our children were small and in school, during a disaster, it would have been necessary for me, the parent who worked nearby, to retrieve the kids, and our plan was to return to our home, gather our pets and then to evacuate if necessary to a pre-selected location my husband and I had discussed in advance.   When we moved out to the "back of beyond" and we began homeschooling,  and I worked part time, often when my husband was home or working from there, our communication needs were different.  If there had been a disaster or emergency, our children were already home. (Except on days when they were taking a specialized course, like skating, physical education,  art, or lab chemistry etc.)  I would have returned to our farm as a base as soon as possible, and the same is true of my husband, had he been the one at work rather than myself.   In our emergency planning and communication plans, we did not rely on cellular phones, we had a pre-set plan, should phones be out.  In addition, when our children were small only one cellphone was owned by our family and it normally stayed with my husband.

These are great tools which may not work in a true emergency, or they may work for only the period of time in which the battery back-up at the cell tower does.

                  I urge all of you now to consider all of the family members who reside with you.  How would you contact one another, and meet again should there be a disaster which necessitates leaving your area, or a disaster where your home could not serve as your base until everyone returns later that day, and you all leave the area together.  I urge you also to assign an out of area call person.   Sometimes when there is a disaster in a region, cell or landline calls cannot easily be routed through that area, and so, it would be more reliable to leave messages at a contact person, out of state, or out of province.  Then your  other family members could also call them for reliable information, when they could not reach you.   Make sure this out of area contact person knows who they are.  Once you have communication plans for those who live with you, you can consider other issues.
                  If you have children in universities, either nearby, or a distance away, establish with them how you would contact them in emergencies, and how they could best contact you.  This will be different for each student and each university, but it's essential that this be discussed and that a plan be formulated.  Many times, when students are missing, the parents don't know for a time, because they established no alternative clear way to contact the student, should they not hear from them.  Sometimes, this has resulted in a late start for a police investigation.
                   Lastly, establish a plan as to how you could contact elderly parents, or disabled family in the event of a disaster.  It could be as simple as calling a landline to their next door neighbor, or calling their minister who lives nearby, or contacting a friend of theirs via HAM radio.
                   Certainly, our plans for contacting those we love are very likely not to work in at least some of the circumstances that may arise.  However, in many events, they will.  It is essential that all families have an emergency contact plan and a default evacuation plan which was discussed in advance.  We must know what we would do if we could not occupy our homes, had to leave the area, and could not communicate conventionally.

                    We know from Hurricane Katrina that if you are ever separated from your children and have time to anticipate this, that the children who were most quickly returned to their parents were the ones who were marked.  "Permanent" black magic marker with their names, the parents names, address, and phone, written on the child's back under a shirt was a very good idea.  Many children following Katrina were not returned to parents for months.  The children were so traumatized that they could not remember the names of their parents, or the name of the street or town in which they lived.
                     Lastly, my father worked hard during his lifetime to teach me two things, and I am afraid I resisted both pretty effectively until after his passing.  He valued my learning to handle and shoot firearms well and safely, and he believed that I should have a HAM radio set up and a license for such.  I have rectified the first issue, and although I have the radio, I have not yet obtained the license, although I shall.
                     I hope this gives each of you a starting point in terms of assessing which areas of communication your family needs to structure or refine.

Make sure that everyone understands what they are to do in the event of an emergency, and update this communication annually.

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