As you may know, I’ve been incredibly busy lately, working on my next book. It isn’t a sequel to “The Road Home” (I’m starting that in March!). Instead, it’s a nonfiction book this time, on emergency communications for “regular folks”. I wrote it with the intent of making emergency communications at least a little bit interesting to my mother, my non-ham friends, and anyone else who should be at least a little interested in having backup comms available. You probably know a few people who fit that description!
I’m posting the second chapter (in its current state – I’m doing a lot of revising now) for your reading enjoyment and review. Please comment – I would love to hear what you think. As I recently said in an email to my blog subscribers, your comments matter and I really value them!
One thing you’ll notice – I’ve added a fiction blurb at the start of the chapter. I do this at the start of many chapters in the book, in order to make the content more “real” (ironically), so that readers, especially those unfamiliar with why emcomm matters, can connect with the message. One piece of feedback I heard recently: “I liked the little stories at the start of the chapters more than the nonfiction content”. While that’s nice to hear, I can’t say that was my original intent, but it does accomplish what I was hoping: it hooks the reader, especially in an area he or she might not otherwise be excited! So I’ll call that a little success for now. What do you think?
Whether you like the fiction or nonfiction, please let me know what you think, and enjoy!
Chapter 2: Creating a Personal Emergency Communication Plan – The Basics
Travis stood, cold and frustrated, outside his office building in the middle of the city. After the earthquake ended, it had taken an excruciating 25 minutes to get from the 12th floor to ground level in the stampede of office workers. The people from the 20th floor probably still had another hour before they’d be out. People milled about him looking frightened and cold, many having forgotten to grab their jackets.
He had remembered his, but still shivered involuntarily in the cold, autumn air. A far deeper chill shot through him as he wondered again if his daughter Emily was safe. As part of his single father routine, Travis had dropped Emily off at day-care earlier that day, just like on any other day. It was about 6 miles away, between work and home.
While he knew the daycare building wasn’t very old and that the employees were trained on emergency procedures (as they are all required to be in his state), he wanted more than anything to know that his little girl was safe. He checked his phone, wondering if he had received a text message, email, or phone call from the school. No texts. No email. No voicemail. And that was probably because he also had no signal.
Travis stamped his feet against the cold and frustration that was building. His car was parked in the lot across the street, but looking at the gridlock that had formed in these last few minutes, he knew that it would take hours to drive the short distance, if he was able to reach the daycare at all. To add to the uncertainty, he would have to cross a bridge that spanned the nearby highway, if that bridge was still in one piece.
He decided to go to his car anyway, to get warm and check the radio. Halfway there he realized he had left his keys in his desk drawer. Luckily, he had a spare in a hide-a-key attached to the car frame. On the radio, tense announcers discussed the obvious fact that they had just experienced a serious earthquake, the roads were clogged, some older buildings had collapsed, and emergency services were not available in many areas. The governor had declared a state of emergency, and FEMA was mobilizing, due to arrive with aid at some point…but when? How could he find out if Emily was OK?
All was not lost. Travis had given some thought to emergency preparations, and had a small bug-out-bag in the trunk of his car, as well as an extra jacket. He was more prepared than most, but these preparations couldn’t help him determine whether his daughter was safe.
After listening to the radio and collecting his wits for a few more minutes, Travis made up his mind. He got out, put on his jacket and backpack, took a last drink from the large water bottle in his car (he had another, smaller bottle in his bag), locked up, and started walking toward the daycare. More than anything, he wished he could talk to someone at the daycare. Would anyone even be there by the time he got there?
How will you be able to communicate in an emergency situation? Will you be able to talk with anyone other than those people in shouting distance? Can they talk to you? If you were in Travis’ shoes, what options would you have?
If you can’t make it home and you know your family is waiting, worried about you, will you be able to talk to them somehow? Or what if you have close friends in an area just hit by a tornado – how will you check to see if they’re all right? Will you have to wait for a notification from the Red Cross? Or will you be able to figure it out on your own? Many businesses have a “business continuity plan” or “emergency response plan,” to ensure the business doesn’t completely fail after an emergency. City, county, and state governments have emergency management offices, with employees whose full-time job is to plan for disasters. To make sure your family and friends are safe after a disaster, you should have a personal plan too! You may not have an emergency planning office at your disposal, but you are smart enough to read this book, so you are well on your way.
Let’s take it a step further. How could you communicate with your neighbors – the elderly widow down the block who always waves and says hello, or the young couple with three kids across the street? Is there any way to talk with them if there is a blizzard or tropical storm raging (depending on your location, of course), other than trekking out in it yourself?
The odds are slim that you’ll be able to accomplish any of these tasks without a basic emergency communications plan. But what’s the best way to figure out what to do? Of course, it depends on what you need. Let’s dig into that.
Step 1: Grab a piece of paper and a pen, and answer these questions. Don’t skip this part. If you don’t think about these questions and come up with good answers, your plan could have critical gaps.
Note: I strongly recommend you write down your answers. It’ll only take a moment, and you’ll be rewarded for this small time investment!
1. Who are you?
At first glance, it probably sounds like a silly question, but think about this for a minute. If you are a man responsible for a wife and three young children vs. a single woman hundreds of miles from home, you may have very different needs. Are you in the military? Do you travel frequently?
Here’s another way to look at the question: who depends on you? Are you responsible for your family’s safety? Do you have a feeling of responsibility to take care of your friends or neighbors? Do you need to take care of a group of people who work for you?
Think about who you are in the context of your various roles in life, and that will take us to our next question…
2. With whom do you need to communicate?
Go back to question #1. Do you need to reach family members nearby? Maybe you have very close friends in the next state. Maybe you need to help take care of neighbors down the block or across the valley. Or maybe you are part of an organized (loosely or tightly) group of preparedness-minded friends, classmates from your CERT course, or others.
3. Are they able to hear you and communicate back with you?
This may seem like another dumb question, but it is actually critical. Let’s assume you set up a fancy radio station that can reach your parents in the neighboring state. If they don’t have a radio that can hear you, you don’t have a useful solution. They need to be able to respond. You may have to minimally equip and train some people as part of your plan. But don’t worry. I will show you how to do this with little effort!
4. How far do you need to communicate?
Are your friends or family close-by, hundreds of miles away, or even thousands of miles away? When we look at your options later, this will be important too. And again, don’t worry – communicating at great distances is quite do-able. It just requires different equipment. Think about distance in these categories:
- Very close – same neighborhood
- Close – same town/city
- Regional – same state or part of a state
- Long distance – a different state, province, region, country, or continent
5. How often will you need to communicate?
Do you need to talk with someone more than once a day? During which time(s) of day do you need to speak? Is there a particular time that works best? Do you have to consider different time zones? We’ll discuss how you can set up a schedule, known as a “calling clock”, which will enable you to reach someone more reliably and save precious power at the same time.
6. Do you need to be mobile?
Do you expect to be staying at home? Do you expect to have your car, truck, or SUV available? Do you expect to be on foot, carrying everything you need in a backpack? There is a big difference between a desk-sized radio running on a deep-cycle marine battery and a hand-held radio running on internal lithium-ion or AA batteries, and there are many options in between.
7. Will you need to transmit data?
In some scenarios, emergency radio teams are prepared to transmit lists of supplies and needed medical equipment to other teams or government agencies as part of disaster relief efforts. This may not apply to you personally, but you should still think about it. This can be done with as little as a handheld radio and an inexpensive netbook computer. Note: while this book doesn’t dig into data transmission details, you should still identify whether this is a need, and do more research.
8. What will be your power supply?
What kind of power will you need? Short of smoke signals, you will need a power source to run your communication device(s). Depending on the device’s power consumption and how often you use it, you may need a generator, three AA batteries, or one of the many other options. Do not neglect this area. All of your planning and preparations will be for nothing if you don’t have the power to run your equipment.
9. Do you have the skills and equipment you need?
Unfortunately, this part of emergency communication planning is often overlooked (especially the skills part). Answers to the previous questions will give you an idea what you’ll need. If you haven’t answered them, don’t waste your time and money by buying a bunch of new gear. You won’t know what to get until you invest a little thought. Once you have a clear vision of what you need to accomplish, then you will be able to identify gaps in equipment and skills. NOTE: equipment is usually easy to take care of, assuming you have a few dollars available, and often simply involves making a purchase online. The skills needed to use the equipment effectively are more work, and you’ll need some practice. Practicing with your gear needs to be part of your initial plan and part of the ongoing maintenance of your plan.
How are these questions helpful? Don’t underestimate the value of a good question. In fact, I’d wager that most people have never answered the simple question “How will you respond in an emergency?”
Sometimes asking a simple question can cause a lot of positive action to happen. (More than once in my life, a very simple question has caused me to go “huh?” and significantly change some of my behavior!) Please take a serious look at the questions above, and as I mentioned before, please write down your answers. As I discuss later, you should also review those answers with your spouse and any other key members of your plan.
Congratulations! You are already ahead of the game. And you have extended your lead further by writing down your answers. Writing is much more useful than simply producing fleeting thoughts and then going about your business, especially considering that many of these thoughts often fade away. Once you have written something down, you have moved it from the “thought” space to a “real” space, and this is a good way to get started. Now that you have written answers, you are ready to move on to the next chapter.