Short-Term Disaster Preparation, Part 2: Staying alert
Besides having basic supplies, the second major component of being prepared for a short-term emergency is staying alert: having a plan, knowing where and how to gather information, and being able to communicate reliably.
Being aware of your environment (and the changes happening to it) can give you a big head start in getting ready for something coming your way. Not all emergency scenarios have a period of warning before they hit, but many natural disasters are foretold hours or days in advance. Pay attention to your local news and your environment for early warning signs:
- News of impending unusual or major rain, snow, wind or ice storms
- Early-warnings of hurricanes, tornadoes or fires in the area
- City emergency sirens
- Natural warnings (ground rumbling, loud noises, dark skies, etc)
These signs may give you a few extra minutes or hours to meet up with your family and make sure all of your ducks are in a row. Make sure you have a basic emergency plan now, and then know how to gather information and communicate when the disaster hits.
Having a Basic Plan
Start out by coming up with a basic plan for what you and your family will do in case of an emergency. Having a predefined plan serves several purposes:
- A plan prepares you, gets you thinking-through what you should do when a disaster strikes
- Already having a plan helps calm you down when the disaster happens
- Everyone involved (you, family, friends) can follow the same plan, so everyone’s on the same page for what needs to happen
A basic disaster preparation plan has a few key components. The plan does not (and should not) be tailored for a specific scenario at this point. You and your family should determine:
- How you will try to contact each other
- Where you will meet if you are not together
- Who else you can turn to if you cannot contact or find each other
- What needs to be done when the emergency hits (find your supplies, get out the flashlights, etc)
The US government’s ready.gov website has a great Make a Plan section. Talk with your family and come up with a basic plan everyone understands and can stick do. Keep it simple. Type everything up, and print out a copy that you can have handy. Make sure everyone knows each other’s cell phone numbers by heart.
Additional plans could be developed for specific scenarios, such as what you would do if a hurricane was heading your way. Would you try to pack up the essentials and stay with family in another state? Or would you board the house up and try to see it through? Obviously any disaster can disrupt even the best made plans, but knowing how to extend your basic plan for specific scenarios can help.
Gathering Information and Communicating
Once a disaster strikes, it is incredibly useful to maintain the flow of information. You will need to receive information from your local and state governments, as well as those around you. You will also want to communicate both within your group and the outside world.
Receiving up to date information about what’s going on can help you plan what to do, where to go, and how long to expect your situation to last. The most reliable form of receiving information in a disaster is AM/FM radio and NOAA Weather Radio. TV, the internet, and cell phones are also potential sources of information, but the infrastructure they require to operate is brittle, and often disrupted or overwhelmed in major scenarios. AM/FM and NOAA radio stations can reach hundreds of miles, so the broadcasting stations can be outside of the affected zone. They are your most reliable form of receiving information in an emergency. Amazon has many inexpensive stand-alone NOAA radios, as well as FRS/GMRS radios that can receive NOAA alerts. Having a simple AM/FM radio — especially one that is powered by a battery, or can be hand-cranked — can go a long way in receiving info about what’s going on.
One of the most distressing parts of any emergency is the feeling of not knowing. Listen closely to AM/FM and NOAA information sources. These broadcasts can:
- Give you up to date information about the emergency (scope and length)
- Help you determine if you should stay in the area or try to leave
- Inform you of how to get additional help if you need it
Communication with the outside world is also essential. Staying in contact with others can help guide, calm and inform you. Today’s most popular long-range communication mediums are land lines, cell phones, and the internet. Unfortunately, all of these technologies are susceptible to infrastructure failure, and can be down for days. Don’t expect to be able to contact others outside of your immediate vicinity, especially if the power is knocked out or the communications infrastructure is damaged. The United State’s cell phone infrastructure is also easily overwhelmed in emergencies, and calls may not get through.
Depending on where you are, your neighbors, co-workers and friends may be the only ones you are able to communicate with. Try to stay calm, and if you are able, help those around you. An organized group of people can be a powerful asset in an emergency.
If you need to communicate amongst your immediate group over short distances, FRS/GMRS radios are a popular and simple technology that can reach a mile or two. Despite their packaging claims, FRS/GMRS radios will not be able to reach 10-35 miles, especially in an urban environment.
Good luck. Be Prepared.