Do you have a Family Communications Plan? More than just an address book or contact list with phone numbers. a communications plan let's everyone know how and when to get in touch with each other, and what to do if they cannot. After all, a disaster is unlikely to happen at a convenient and predictable time when everyone is together. Also, phones and Internet my be down during, and even after, a disaster. The situation will be chaotic and confused.
A communications plan should not only be about two-way communications between family and group members, but is also about listening - gathering news and information about what is going on around you. (It is a good idea to review Situational Awareness and the OODA Loop when developing a communications plan.)
Communications plans can be quite detailed and extensive, too detailed and extensive to completely cover in a simple article. My goal with this article is encourage folks to develop a communications plan if you don't already have one, and to cover the basics for those just getting started. A more advanced exploration of communications plans can be found in the book Personal Emergency Communications by Andrew Baze.
Do you have an up-to-date list of family, friends, and other contacts? People move, phone numbers change, and email changes even more often - that list you put together five years ago is unlikely to still be current.
Who should be on your contact list? Everyone who you might need to contact at some point. A partial list:
- Family (immediate and extended)
- Group members
- Church members
- Your kid's school
- Your mechanic
- The Tow Service you use
- Electricians, Plumbers, and other repair services
- Your Water, Power, and Gas companies
- Your bank and insurance companies
- Local hospitals
- Your Doctors, Dentists, Eye Doctors, Veterinarians, Pharmacy...
- Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) and other emergency services
Keep a paper master list of all contact information in your home and in your bug-out bag (and maybe at your office or in a safe deposit box). Keep electronic copies of the complete master list on your computer, smart phone, IPad, USB Key and other electronics, too. All family members should know where these master lists are. Individual family members should also have paper copies of contact information relevant to them. (Your eight year-old probably doesn't need your plumber's phone number, but probably should have Grandma's and Aunt Ida's phone numbers, as well as your cell phone and work numbers.)
Do your kids know how to call 911? And when they should? When they do, do they know their full name, their parents' full names, and their address and home phone number? My Mother taught early elementary school for years, and says she was constantly surprised by the number of kids she had that didn't know this basic information.
Make sure your kids know what to do if they can't get in touch with you. After trying your home and cell phone numbers, maybe they should try to reach you at a work number? Or maybe try Grandma, then Aunt Ida? Or maybe a neighbor or even your pastor? It depends on your own situation. Think this through now, and make sure your kids know. Maybe give them a prioritized list of numbers to call - try 1 first, then 2, then 3, and so forth...
Should kids have cell phones? This is up to you. There are both positives and negatives to kids having cell phones. It depends on your circumstances, concerns, and the maturity level of your kids. I personally see no reason for a young kid to have a smart phone, but a basic cell phone may be a good idea. This is especially true as they grow older and start to take part in various non-school and after school activities without you. Remember, you have a right and a duty to monitor their cell phone activities, and to place limits on the use of the cell phone. I know one parent who does not allow her kids to have their cell phones in their rooms at night. This is okay.
Set Up Phone Trees. Many churches have these (sometimes called prayer trees), in which prayer requests and other information can be spread quickly to all church members. Basically, person A calls two predetermined people, who each in turn call two predetermined people. Those four people each call two people, and so forth until the entire church is notified. Phone trees can be set up not just for churches, but for survival groups, extended families, neighborhoods, businesses, and schools. Each could have their own set of rules for when and why the phone tree is to be activated.
Do you have a plan for when the phones aren't working? This gets a bit tricky. Phone calls, text messages, and social media are easy ways to communicate. But what happens when the phones and Internet aren't working? Remember, on 9/11 the cell phone system was overwhelmed, and most calls didn't got through? (Note: Text messaging is less likely to be overwhelmed, and may be working even when voice calls aren't.) Perhaps two-way radios or even CB radios can help facilitate communications during grid-down situations. Figure this out and get the necessary equipment and knowledge for your family/group now, so you'll be ready when you need it.
Messages may have to be delivered in person. Figure out how your family and group might do this, and when. Who will deliver messages and to whom? Having a code phrase might help verify the authenticity of the message. Make it something simple and silly, so that even kids can remember it ("purple elephants" or "unicorn hamburgers"). This way they can verify that the message is from you when a neighbor or weird cousin Eddie from out of state suddenly shows up claiming you sent them. Written messages should also contain this code phrase.
You may need to leave messages. Come up with protocols for this possibility and make sure everyone knows them. For example: The grid is down. You have to leave home unexpectedly for some reason. Leave a message in a predetermined place with the details of where you're going and when you might be back. That way if someone shows up looking for you, they'll know where to look for the note. Another example: You show up at Grandma's house. She's not home. Leave a note for her in a predetermined place (maybe taped to the back door?) in case she comes home before you find her. The code phrase could be written on the note to verify its authenticity.
Listening and gathering information is vital during an emergency. An emergency radio is a vital piece of equipment. You can get weather reports, school and business closings, road closings, local news, national news, and other important information. With emergency scanners, you can monitor police, fire, EMT, and other emergency and government bands. More advanced preppers might want to get into shortwave and ham radios.
Kaito KA500 Emergency Radio. This is an excellent one, in my opinion: AM / FM / SW / NOAA (weather alert) bands; powered five ways (electrical cord, USB port, AA batteries, solar, and hand-crank); plus flashlight, reading lamp, and cellphone charger.
The Ultimate Survivalists Guide to Ham Radio is an article by Alpha Survivalist on their website. This is a very good introduction to ham radios, and I highly recommend reading it if you're interested incorporating ham radio into your communication plans.
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