Thursday, September 11, 2014

It's 9/11 - Do You Have a Family Communications Plan?

Can't believe it's been 13 years.

I can remember that morning like it was yesterday and the main thing that sticks in my mind was the amount of confusion and worry that day.

We all didn't know what was happening in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. We all wanted to know our family and friends in those areas were safe. But many phone systems in those areas were either down or jammed with call traffic.

The good news is that today there are many more options to keep in touch and stay informed.

Communication Plan - make one today.

With the advent of smart devices and social media, getting the word out that you are OK or contacting loved ones to check on their status is much easier, but it still requires some thought and planning.

1) Determine the best ways to let your family and friends know you're OK in an emergency. Here's my ranked list:

  1. Social media: Facebook, Twitter, Google+
  2. Text messages
  3. Voice: cell or landline

  • I chose social media as my first method due to it's redundancy and one-to-many communication method. Any one of these channels can let your family know you're OK and can also be used to query loved ones on their status. You can also access these channels from multiple devices - if WiFi is down, but cell service is still working, you can still communicate through your smart phone.
  • Text messaging is a good back up to social media, especially if you need to communicate with family and friends who may not be tied into social media or unable to access it from work, etc. You can use group texts to contact multiple people more efficiently.
  • The phone call or message is my last resort, mostly aimed at my older relatives and friends who don't have smart phones and don't live on social media like I do.
     - I'm assuming that my status is "OK". If I'm in trouble, a phone call to my local police or fire department would be my first choice.
     - Also, have important phone numbers written down - when your cell phone dies or is lost, that speed-dial function is going to be useless.

2) Make sure your family & friends know how you're going to let everyone know you're OK.

  • If you're going to use social media, let everyone know that's your plan. Worst case, a friend or relative outside of the emergency area that saw your update on social media or spoke to you on the phone can let others know what's going on through various methods.

3) Have backups in your plan. For example:

  • What will you do if your cell phone dies, is broken, or lost? (Borrow a neighbor's phone?)
  • What if the cell service is down or locked up due to excessive traffic? (Can you still get on the Internet? Use social media?)
  • What if the land lines are down? (Use Cell or Internet?) 

I realize that having a communication plan is not a silver bullet to solving an emergency crisis, but being able to easily communicate your status or check up on a loved one's condition will give you a greater peace of mind, enabling you to focus on more important tasks during an emergency.

Get started now with this great planning resource from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA).

September is National Preparedness Month, visit FEMA's site for more info and excellent resources.
For my readers in Massachusetts, visit MEMA's site for additional local preparedness info.

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