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Family communications planning

June 30, 2012
By Tammy VanOverbeke - Lyon County Emergency Management director , Marshall Independent

We are at the time of year where we are planning family vacations, reunions, attending weddings, having family picnics, etc. These activities give us great opportunities to touch base, update contact information and have a bit of discussion on a family communications plan.

Think about what thoughts go through your head when you hear of a disaster where you know that family and friends are. Right away you wonder and hope that they are OK.

One of the first things that a community loses in a disaster is communications. The electricity goes out so they can't use their cordless phones. The cell towers are overwhelmed and cell phones become useless within minutes. So, even if they were not personally affected by the incident, they can't contact others. And you can't contact them.

We have learned from past disasters that the No. 1 possession that people want or need in the aftermath of a disaster is a way to communicate. Usually this means a cell phone. We have become a society that is very dependent on having contact with anyone at our fingertips at all times.

Whether we are affected by the disaster or not, we need to communicate with each other.

The most reliable form of communication that we have available today is texting. While landline phones, computers, VOIP phones and cell phones are vulnerable and quickly overwhelmed in a disaster, texting usually works. Sending a quick, short text works for many reasons.

One of the reasons is that you do not have to continue to try calling on a cell phone. Your text message will stay in queue until it is able to go through. Send it once and you don't need to do it again. It will go through faster than constantly redialing, which is one of the ways that cell towers get overwhelmed. Remember, keep the message short and informational. Examples are: "we are ok." "house is ok." "we are ok. at a shelter at the high school. " etc.

Having discussion with family and friends about who can be the main contact that will be awaiting a message and will be responsible to pass it on is the first step in communications planning. You should have a couple of these main contacts. Also having a contact that is out of the area is recommended so there is less chance of them being affected by the same incident

Now, does everyone have the most current contact information for everyone? Does everyone have texting capabilities on their phone? Does everyone know how to text? Is there a need to help or teach older friends and relatives? A quick texting tutorial may be in order.

Remember to use real, whole words so everyone understands.

You all know how you get that lump in your throat when you hear about a disaster in an area where you have loved ones. There is a real sense of relief in knowing that you have planned for this and that you are still able to communicate when the inevitable happens.



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