Will a Cell Phone work during a Storm?

“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure that you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

Robert McCloskey, U.S. State Department

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Communications have come a long way.

When faced with a Catastrophic event whether sitting at home or on an errand communicating with family members becomes the first priority rapidly. In order to successfully call loved ones preplanning and practice should not be ignored. This blog addresses some of them, more are unique to each individuals needs. When total destruction occurs be it from Earthquakes, Tsunamis or Hurricanes, there are associated calamities following the initial shock, flood, loss of electricity, loss of water, and the subject of this article loss of communications and the importance of planning prior to a disaster.

Planning well in advance of a natural disaster which causes the loss of residence is an important first step to take. There are four basic questions we can ask ourselves to get started:

1) How can we receive emergency alerts and warnings? These are usually issued by a local emergency alert agency or department.

2) What kind of a Shelter plan do we need?

3) How will we evacuate? Many Counties and Cities have evacuation plans.

4) Do we have a communications plan?

A consideration of the needs of each family member must be recognized and addressed, each emergency plan is unique to every household. It is advisable to take into account:

* The ages of the people in your household, not all residences are occupied by related family members, some households must include planning for visitors.

* Who will be of assistance to others, special needs such as elderly, disabled, and babies.

* Where is everyone, a list of frequent hangouts for each person.

* Special dietary requirements of residents.

* Devices and Equipment used by household members with disabilities and special medical needs.

* Medications and prescriptions

* Allow for the languages spoken in the household.

* Special religious and cultural requirements.

* Pets and service animals.

* Youngsters, toddlers, and babies.

* Contact information for neighbors

We take all of this information into consideration, then put it all in writing, it looks like an insurmountable task, it’s not. FEMA, Federal Emergency Management Agency, has developed many templates of which we may download and complete. (Follow this Link to FEMA’s instructions on how to create a family emergency plan.) It is advisable that the planning be a household activity because when a person has input there is a real sense of ownership. Children especially will be enthusiastic when their suggestions are put into action and valued by the family.

Pay particular attention to communications, during an event everyone in the community that is affected will immediately start to call loved ones. The cell phone lines and landlines will be jammed up, human nature is when a “busy” signal is received we immediately hang up and redial. This further adds to the congestion on the airwaves, very few people will complete their calls, communications will be stalled.

Texting may have more successful results, it does not occupy as much space on the lines as a telephone call. A better solution may be to have an out of area contact, a relative several states away, or in a distant city is advisable. All members of the household should have the contact information on a card in their wallet at all times with instructions to make contact as soon as reasonably possible. When making the initial call make it short, stating where you are, what condition you are in, and any other pertinent information. After first contact call again several hours later, everyone will have reported by then and a plan for reuniting will be established by the person pre-selected to make that determination. Four hours after the event the telephone lines will begin to clear up, it may then be possible to communicate directly phone to phone.
We may all be trying to call at once.
If communication by cell phone is not possible, look for other ways to let others know you are alright. Post office bulletin boards, email if you have a computer, post-pre-made flyers, or meet at a pre-determined spot.

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Know where your local evacuation muster areas are, many at-risk localities have designated staging areas for victims to wait until they are able to be relocated to a relief center. First responders will under certain situations venture into the communities searching for people in distress, this could take several hours if not days. Due to a lack of adequate planning many times we don’t have all of the information we need to make informed decisions. This is one of those points, if we do not know where to evacuate, we will be unable to help ourselves. Getting in contact with the local emergency planning agency is prudent to gather as much information as possible to prepare for the unthinkable. It is important to talk with them about special needs people in your family also, many local governments keep a list of at-risk people and prioritize their evacuations at the highest level. If we fail in contacting them in advance there is no way the emergency personnel will know you are there.

While putting the plan together another consideration is to be certain to address the possibility of people being away from the house. Not so much for the people who are away but for the people left at home alone, many times they are vulnerable children. Written instructions on what actions should be taken during the various events that may impact your area, each have common implications as well as unique challenges. The demands of a flood are much different than what we face during a tornado for instance.

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Cats most of the time stay in the vicinity of the house after the wildfires of 2017 in Northern California people reported finding their pet cats hiding under bushes and structures near their destroyed homes. Dogs, on the other hand, have a tendency to run fast, far, and in a panic. Many of them never find their way home again, lost to their human friends forever. A partial solution or one that can enable the search to be successful is to take a photo of your pet with the entire family. Neighbors are more able to associate an animal with its owners when they are together because that is how most of the time the pet is seen. Include all of your pets, birds, cats, dogs, and pot belly pigs also, whatever your pet is include them in the photo. I suppose fish may be an exception, parrots, iguana’s, and turtles should all be in the family portrait. It’s also prudent to make a flyer and have them ready to post immediately when the threats are relieved.
I forgot to include the people!
Elderly parents, children, parents, and neighbors will all be at an advantage with a pre-written plan. It gives the family confidence that in the chance that a natural disaster does occur everything will be going according to plan, mom and dad will be where they said they will be when they said they will be there. Distant relatives will be released also due to the out of area contact being able to report the condition of the family, eliminating more attempts of calling on cell phones. Friends will benefit as well because they too will be able to contact the distant contact number. Caregivers will appreciate a written plan also, they have their hands full when there is no activity, during an emergency stress is a by-product for them.

To further gain confidence in the plan, practice it until everyone knows what it entails, and all of the bugs are worked out of it. Making sure everyone performs their assignments that will assist in the completion of the entire plan is the goal. Now is the time to determine what makes sense and what doesn’t, fix the problems, all plans are made to be altered, none are perfect. We do love when a plan comes together though, don’t we? They will, for the most part, we don’t shoot for perfection, if 80% of our plan is successful after practice, and editing, it’s a positive outcome. Disasters are not uniform, to expect our plan to follow the progress of a storm or other calamity in its entirety is not reasonable. The plan will be flexible enough to work with the events we have recognized as threats.

A written plan with practice will work, placing us a step ahead of those who did not put a thought into what they may need during such an event. I am an advocate of being in a position prior to an evacuation event of being prepared to the point of being a responder versus a victim. Having an ample supply of water to share with neighbors, directions on where the muster points are, how to get up to date disaster reports, is all information and supplies people need to share with one another. A Catastrophic event is no time to exercise the “I got mine, so much for you”, philosophy.

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Aim to be in a position to assist during an emergency situation.
The signs of success are fairly straightforward if we all survive, the plan was successful We can purchase an endless amount of supplies to assist us in making it through a natural event, however without the planning the equipment is useless.

Thank you for reading and sharing this article, the severe storms taking place in the Eastern States show us the urgency in being able to take care of our basic needs when facing a natural disaster. Most of these types of events strike me the same way as when my neighbor’s houses burned down, the human tragedy is always front and center.

Thank you again for reading and sharing.

jacques Lebec Natural Self Reliance

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