Friday, December 26, 2014

Emergency Tip: Best Apps for that New Holiday Device

Don't forget to add the weather and emergency alert apps
to that new device! 

Congratulations on your new phone and/or tablet!

During this holiday season, many of us will receive a new smart phone or tablet and will instantly start filling the new gizmo up with apps for Facebook, Twitter, Minecraft, etc.

Don't forget the really important apps - the ones that can really help your family in a crisis.

Best Apps to Keep You and Your Family Safe

A) First off, let's start with Weather Apps - these are useful every day.  Here are my 2 favorites, but searching in your device's App Store for "weather" will provide dozens of great ones.  Important: Make sure your app has push alerts for weather emergencies.
  1. WeatherBug - Nobody else (besides the National Weather Service) has their own commercial-grade weather and lightning observation network in the United States. 
  2. AccuWeather - This app has a very unique interface with hour-by-hour forecasts right on the main screen.

B) Next up are Emergency-specific Apps. My favorite series of apps in this category are from the Red Cross. Searching in your device's App Store for "Red Cross" will produce a dozen apps that are very helpful and very specific to regional emergencies.
  1. Red Cross Mobile Apps - They have apps for First Aid, Blood Donations, Floods, Earthquakes, Wildfires, etc. Download the apps that apply to the emergencies you may face. These apps are US-focused.
  2. For other parts of the world, use the search function in your App Store and look for "disaster alert", "emergency planning" or "emergency preparation". Adding your country or state to the search will most likely result in specific apps for your region, produced by either your government or a private organization.
For my friends in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) has produced an excellent alert app: Massachusetts Alerts.
  • Massachusetts Alerts is customized for Massachusetts and in addition to providing alerts and critical information about ongoing incidents and disasters, Massachusetts Alerts will also provide preparedness tips and information, and direct users to online resources to help them prepare for, manage during, and recover from the wide range of natural, technological and man-made hazards that threaten the residents of the Commonwealth.

C) Finally, set up and practice with your device's Texting, Video Chat, and Location Apps. These apps aren't as cool as the one's listed above, but during emergencies, texts may get through when the voice lines are all tied up. Also, being able to locate a family member's phone remotely will provide much needed information and peace of mind during an emergency. Make texting and other methods of communication part of your Family's Communication Plan. 

So enjoy all your new technology this week - and don't forget to add a few helpful apps for when things get really exciting!

Image credit: Copyright Patrick W. O'Connor.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Emergency Tip: Holiday Fire Safety

With REAL CANDLES on our Christmas tree every year,
we have stepped up our fire safety plan!

Having a German mother, I've grow up with candles on our Christmas tree, plus German decorations that use candles and fire such as Pyramiden and Räuchermänner. We learned at an early age that candles are not something to take lightly, but can be very beautiful when you are careful.

I've now continued this tradition in my own home, and while it sounds scary at first, we are just as careful as my parents were, sometimes even more so.

Holiday Safety Tips for Everyone (not just the crazy ones with real candles on their tree!)

The Tree
  1. Buy a fresh tree if you can, cutting one down at a tree farm is the best. See this video comparing the flamabilty of the dry tree vs. a fresh one!
  2. Your tree should be cut at an angle again once you get it home and immediately placed in water.
  3. Place your tree away from sources of heat. (Such as candles!)
  4. Use only non-flammable decorations.
  5. Use only UL-approved lighting.
  6. Inspect your lights for frayed/damaged wires before decorating.
  7. Do not leave your tree lights on unattended.
  8. Keep your tree stand full of water at all times.
  9. Once you notice your tree drying out, be even more vigelant and discard as soon as possible.
DISCLAIMER - Don't Try This at Home: Yes, we do put real candles on our live Christmas tree every year. But the tree is freshly cut, it is a breed that is strong enough to hold the candles, the tree is not trimmed - so there are many branches that stick out - allowing candles to be placed without limbs above the flame, the candles are small and designed to fit into special metal clips, we only light the tree on special occasions with many adults watching the candles, and NEVER leave the tree alone once the candles are lit. 

Important: Tree fires get out of control amazingly fast - this YouTube video proves it - keep it watered and free of sources of ignition. If it does catch fire, don't be a hero - get you and your family out and call 911 from outside your home.

Battery-operated flameless candles can look &
smell like real candles.

  1. Candles add a festive mood to your holidays, but be very careful this time of year - wrapping paper and decorations can easily catch fire, depending on where your candles are placed.
  2. If you do use lit candles, make sure they are in stable holders, and place them where they cannot be knocked down easily.
  3. Avoid leaving candles burning unattended. Even those in glass containers, such as "Yankee Candles", can be dangerous if something flammable falls on top of them.
      -  Falling asleep was a factor in 11% percent of the home candle fires and 37% of the associated deaths. 
  4. Consider using battery-operated flameless candles. Today's models can look, smell and feel like real candles.

I really hope you have a fun and safe holiday season - we're going to keep the fire extinguishers close and only light the few candles on our tree on special nights, with many adults focused on each candle!

For more information on holiday fire safety, please visit the National Fire Protection Association's Holiday Safety site.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday's Emergency Tip: Kid Plans

Talk with your family this weekend and figure out plans
for various situations. 

Not every event is a major catastrophe, but you should still plan

Back on 9/11, I wrote about Family Communications Plans. These plans were focused on major events and reaching distant family and friends - not the immediate, local family.

But recently I was reminded by a neighbor with younger children that events happen every day that are not real emergencies, but would be much less stressful if a plan was thought out first.

Events such as:
  • Child arriving home to an empty, locked house
     - Do they have a key?
     - Can they stay in the backyard?
     - If it's winter, which neighbor should they go to? 
  • Child lost in a mall
     - Who should they ask for help?
     - Do they know your cell #?
  • Child left at school
     - During normal hours, there are always administrators with family contact info, but what about after hours: sports, drama club, band?
     - How can your child call you? Do they have their own phone or can they borrow a friend's?
     - Should they go home with a neighbor? 
  • Child hurt outside
     - If there are no adults present, what will they do?
     - How will your child get help or help the other injured person?
  • Fire at home
     - This is a real emergency that must be planned for.
     - When was the last time you held an actual fire drill at home?
     - Does every room have 2 ways to get out?
     - What if an adult is not home? Do your children know what to do? Where to go?

These are just a few events to think about and plan for. Each family and home is different, so every family's planning process will be different. The important thing is to regularly talk about possible events and how you and your family would deal with each one.

There are many excellent family emergency plans out on the web. I've linked to a few below:

Friday, December 5, 2014

Friday's Emergency Tip: Protecting Your Documents

Store your important docs in a waterproof file folder case.
Then they are organized, protected and portable.
When an emergency hits and you have to get out of your house in a hurry, do you have all your important documents ready to go?

I'll have to be honest - we have some of our important documents together in a file folder - but many other important items are scattered in various filing cabinets around our home.

The Emergency Financial First Aid Kit

21 Page PDF with checklists you can fill out
and then save or print.
I recently found this extremely well written and organized document from FEMA: the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit

Download this file and use its various checklists to build a complete collection of family information and important documents. You can then store the completed PDF digitally in a secure online location or print it out and add it to your document case (see first image at top of this page).

It's also an excellent practice to make copies of your main personal and financial documents. After using the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit to gather all your prime documents together, visit your local library or copy center - just remember to check the backside of your documents for important info that may need to be copied as well. Then seal them in a large document envelope and have either your lawyer or a trusted friend/relative hold onto this package for you. 

I hope this info helps you with your document prep efforts. I know I'm going to use this new "First Aid Kit" tool in the upcoming week to really fill up what's in my portable document case. 

For additional emergency preparation tips, visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency's site @

For my Massachusetts friends, please visit the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency's site for excellent preparation info and updates.