Law enforcement, fire, medical, emcomm team members, Emergency Operation Center managers, other emergency services personnel and managers, business continuity (BC) or continuity of operations (COOP) coordinators, please pay attention. Being able to use most of your key emergency plans in a serious event will depend on what I discuss next.
Have you tested emergency response plans for your communications teams or emergency office? Maybe you’ve worked through a county-wide earthquake drill or simulated hurricane or tornado response. Most of us have done some testing or exercise. But a key part of these exercises is usually not covered. Specifically, who does the work if families are in danger? In other words, how well will those plans work if nobody shows up because they’re busy trying to determine whether their families are safe?
No Personal Emergency Communications Plan?
Most emergency operations people I meet are generally well-prepared for a short-term problem, with at least the three days of food and water, a CERT class under their belts, first aid, CPR and other basic certificates in place. But in a recent talk I gave to an audience of emergency management professionals in government and the private sector, I asked how many of them had a written, personal emergency communication plan. The results were eye-opening. Less than 10% of the audience raised their hands. While it may be different on your team or in your office, the numbers aren’t surprising to me. Very few people have answered “yes” when I ask whether they have a written plan. I aim to change that, slowly but surely…
Let’s be clear about the problem: most of the people we will need to rely on during or right after a disaster do not have a personal emergency communications plan. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to take this one step further. If the people who are already personally and professionally actively engaged in emergency preparedness don’t have a personal emcomm plan, the vast majority of people in their offices won’t either. The people they rely on won’t be available. When we test our official plans, we assume our emergency personnel will be present. In many cases, they won’t.
Here’s another way to look at it. If you are at work and your area is hit by an earthquake, twister, unexpected flooding, power outage or anything else that could seriously impact your family, what will be your focus? For that vast majority of us, our top priority will be to ensure our families are safe. Everything else is lower priority, even if our job is to help others in emergencies. Read about Paul Schubert, 30-year police veteran who needed to care for his wife after Katrina hit: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2006-02-20-neworleanspolice_x.htm. If you get to the end, you’ll see the crux: “I chose my wife,” Schubert says. “It was a no-brainer.”
For the ~10% of the exceptionally well-prepared people who do have personal emcomm plans, I’ll ask you another question. Can you manage your offices alone? Can you do everything that needs to be done all by yourself, after a natural disaster or other emergency? Most of you will probably answer “no.”
This is a glaring gap in our overall ability to respond to a disaster at all levels. No amount of equipment and supplies will prepare us to survive disaster without any trained personnel to lead, communicate, coordinate logistics and distribution, etc. An emcomm plan for yourself and everyone you depend on is critical for every member of any emergency response organization.
How Do We Fix This?
What’s the solution? Just as with our planning at the city/county/state level, we should have a written and tested personal emcomm plan for every critical member of our various emergency response teams. This idea certainly shouldn’t be foreign, but it is still generally overlooked.
What kind of plan are we talking about? As with our “professional” plans, a plan needs to take the following into account:
- Who? (e.g., family, friends, possibly neighbors we feel responsible for)
- When do we attempt communication? If phones don’t work, when do we use precious battery power to transmit or listen?
- What gear do we use at which time? Do you try with an FRS/GMRS radio, amateur radio, satphone? Which frequencies or channels do we use if the first ones are busy?
- What are the backup plans, and what are their schedules?
Do you have a template for a plan? You can get one for free here.
Along with a realistic and tested plan comes equipment and training. Family members should be equipped and trained to use the appropriate technology for your budget, terrain, distances, etc.
Do you need more information? Dozens of tips on planning, technology specific gear are covered in my book Personal Emergency Communications, available on Amazon.com in print, and in Kindle and Nook formats soon.
Andrew Baze, AB8L