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How to prepare a family emergency plan part 2: Communication

Disasters often make both travel and communication difficult.
Disasters often make both travel and communication difficult.
Monika Graff Getty Images

As discussed in the first part of this series, during an emergency situation, your family's first priority is meeting at a relatively safe location in order to regroup and respond to the emergency as a group. However, the chaotic nature of a disaster means that the simple act of regrouping will sometimes be impossible. Therefore, our next priority becomes communication. If your family is unable to rendezvous, you should still be able to make sure that your loved ones are okay.

In this age of social networking, it's hard to imagine living in a world without instant communication of some kind but that's exactly the kind of world you will find yourself in the aftermath of a disaster. A loss of electricity will kill your internet and your cordless phones. Cellular networks are quickly overwhelmed in many emergencies. Landlines are usually one of the last forms of communication to go but will be knocked out by a disaster of sufficient violence. Begin planning alternative means of communication before you are forced to get creative.

Begin by building a list of emergency numbers that everyone in your family needs. Write these out legibly, copy them, laminate them and make sure everyone in the family carries this with them always. Make at least one of these emergency contacts a friend or relative who lives out of state. When an emergency strikes, try to use conventional methods of contact first. Make sure everyone knows to contact your out of state asset in case local lines are overwhelmed.

Even though a disaster is severe enough to knock out most means of personal communication, there is almost always some sort of radio broadcast in action. At the very least, you need a dynamo powered radio with citizen's band and/or shortwave capability. This will allow you to get news from state media as well as independent transmitters. Many heroic ham radio operators have stepped up to coordinate response efforts during disasters when established networks have gone down. It is not a bad idea to get to know your local amateur radio club and find out how you can get involved.

As a final backup plan, consider using dead drops. As discussed in the previous article, the best way to regroup during an emergency is to have a series of safe areas designated ahead of time in case you have to evacuate. Dead drops have been used since ancient times and remain a reliable if ponderous means of communication.

Creating a dead drop is simple. Find a sturdy, water resistant container (instant coffee jars work great), put some paper and a pencil inside and hide it. Stash a dead drop at each of your safe destinations and show everyone in your group where they are hidden. If your family is separated (and properly drilled), they will seek out at least one of the safe areas for some length of time before moving on.

Dead drops allow you to leave messages to those likely to follow in a way that doesn't depend on electricity or networks. Since the dead drop is hidden in your safe area, hostile elements that may loot your refuge are unlikely to find it. If you do have to leave a dead drop message, make sure you put down what condition you are in, where you are going, how you are traveling and what route you are taking to get there.

These are all simple steps that require very little effort to implement but could easily mean the difference between responding to an emergency with a plan and total panic.


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