One of the first items when starting to get your family prepared for an emergency is to establish an family emergency communication plan or a family reunification plan. This sometimes gets overlooked in the excitement to start purchasing items for your 72 hour or now 120 hour emergency kit. As with all of our emergency preparations we need to keep in mind that we prepare not just for regional emergencies but also the small personal emergencies. The goal of the family emergency communication plan is to 1- Gain information and intelligence on the emergency and location of family members. 2- Establish communication with your family members. 3- Reunification with your family. This article will discuss these three goals.
Gather Information and Intelligence
In the event of an emergency we will want to have a general understanding of the whereabouts of our family. Here are some items to consider to accomplishing this task before the emergency. Keep the shared family calendar, and shared work calendars current with activities. Even if data networks go down, your phone will have cached your calendar and shared calendars. You can reference the offline data stored in your phone or if networks are still up live data to see where your family members were scheduled to be at that time. And inverse, your family can see where you were scheduled to be located last. Also, some location finding apps for phones store offline last known location. The first step in reunification is having an accurate picture of last known locations.
The other intelligence we need to gather is the extent of the emergency and other related information. This can be accomplished several different ways. The traditional method is to have a TV with over the air signal capability, a radio that can receive the emergency alert system, and a radio that can tune to local FM broadcasts. The last two can be solved with your HT if it has FM radio capability. Along with the channels on your HT, your local hams on repeaters or simplex frequencies can provide boots on the ground observations. Newer forms of emergency alerts include getting notifications on your phone automatically from dispatch centers based on cell tower proximity. You can also subscribe to your local reverse 911 system for home and work, city or county emergency subscriber lists for home or work, apps on your phone from local media, and apps from transportation department or other government sources. Lastly, in grid up situations Twitter will provide you real-time information faster than official channels can provide.
After you have gained intelligence and information, you need to enact your plan to gain health and welfare information on your family and establish communications. Be sure to have all your phones updated with all possible contact information. In spotty data coverage now is not the time to query google maps or web searches for school or work phone numbers or addresses. Have all possible information stored in your phone including alternate phone numbers, addresses, and other information such as local hospitals, fire/police stations, etc. If you know your son is at a friend's house and cannot get there, you will need exact address if you expect a local ham in the area to make a welfare check for you. Lastly, if you have the data room on your phone, instruct google maps app to store local map data offline.
Make a laminated card with critical contact information on one side in case your cell phone looses power and you lose ability to query the phone. Once again, you may get aid from a ham outside the disaster area that can make phone calls for you. Additional phone number to have is a designated point of contact well outside the possible affected area. Give each family member instructions on the card to attempt to send a text message to this person since text is more likely to get through then a call. The person outside the area can gather the information and relay back as needed. In complete grid down situation you can utilize local operators to pass national message traffic or, if you have the capability, you can use HF bands to relay message information to out of state contacts or utilize the Winlink system.
Provide each family member a radio to store in their daily bag. Also have one installed or available in every vehicle and one in the home as well. Have programmed in simplex frequency and instruct your family members to have this radio turned on and monitoring in the event of an emergency. Make sure these instructions are also included in the radio bag and your emergency contact card information. You will be able to use this simplex frequency to establish communications with your family. Once again, if you are not in simplex range, you may be able to get a local ham operator to change frequency and make a call and relay information.
After you have information, intelligence, and re-established communications with your family, the last step is reunification. If you are in contact with your family you can make the decision then when and where to meet based on the circumstances. If you are not in communication, you need to have written instructions on where to go for reunification. For your children, the instruction should be simply stay in last known location, if we know where you last were, we are coming for you, or sending someone to get you. If you wander or leave, then we have no information where you are. So if it is safe to stay put, they should do so. Establish a safe word in advance so they know the person sent to get them comes from you. The safe word is a good practice to follow to have in all circumstances. For adults if it is safe to travel, move to the closest predetermined safe house location, this may be back to work if close, home, or another friend or family member. If you family knows your last location, they can make an educated guess you are staying put, or moving to a predetermined location. Lastly, your family communication card has numbers on one side. Use the other side for a family photo, you may need this photo to prove relationship at a reunification center or query of whereabouts if in a search situation.
This emergency communication and reunification plan should not be overlooked in establishing and maintaining along with your physical items. We as emergency communicators are prepared to offer our unique services to our community and served agencies in the event of a disaster or emergency. However, we will not be able to perform our duties if our family and loved ones health and welfare is not secured.