Even though we cannot predict or prevent earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, or other natural cataclysmic events, we can prepare our families to cope and survive as optimally as possible. Learning what communication options are available during and after a disaster will bring confidence that you can better protect you and your loved ones. Establish a "meeting place" where family members can gather in the event of an emergency. You may want to select a local school or church. In a case where it is not possible to gather, having a common message center is vital.
One of the most important keys to receiving and sending information to family members who may be in various places when a disaster occurs is through an out-of-state contact. This is a friend or relative designated to handle messages should you not be able to call or locate your local family members. While most local private phone lines may be out of order for hours after a disaster strikes, pay phones are usually operable much sooner. The out-of-state contact can receive and relay messages from family members so you will know they are safe.
Tips for Communication
- Everyone should carry with them a card with the out-of-state contact's name, address, and day and evening phone numbers. Let your children's teachers know who the out-of-state contact is for your family. That way, if your children are at school and you cannot pick them up, school representatives will know whom to relay a message concerning where your children will be taken.
- Each family member should carry a phone card or enough change for several phone calls.
- One woman whose family lives in California has designated her sister who is a stay-at-home mom in Michigan as the out-of-state contact. Family members carry laminated cards in their wallets with the following information: (1) emergency meeting place with the address (outside the home); (2) alternate meeting place and address (outside the neighborhood); and (3) name and day and evening phone numbers of out-of-state contact.
- It may be helpful to find out in advance if you have a ham radio operator in your area. They are very helpful and can deliver messages from both private and community sources during and after a disaster. If a pay telephone isn't readily available, and your out-of-state contact is several states away, you can communicate via this type of relay system. Your local ham can contact another ham that will contact another ham, and so on, until they find one within your out-of-state contact's area. The ham operator closest to your contact can then phone the contact and deliver any messages.
- A battery-powered or hand crank radio is helpful in monitoring the status of the disaster. Be sure to keep a fresh supply of batteries on hand. Check expiration dates on the batteries and rotate them regularly. Do not keep batteries inside the radio because they expire more quickly and may leak.
- When charged, most cell phones are able to call 9-1-1 even when they are not active. It is wise to have a cell phone (even not activated) when traveling or for emergency use.
Remember that preparation brings confidence. When planning for an emergency, don’t forget that communication with your family members will be especially important. The tips provided in this article will assist you in creating a plan to contact loved ones during unexpected events.