ISHN Guest BlogPosted on April 26, 2013 by Jennie McKelvey, BST

Disasters aren’t scheduled. After the two unfortunate events in Boston and West, Texas shook the nation in one week, emphasis is being highly placed on having family and workplace emergency plans in place in the event of a disaster. Here are a few tips to help plan and prepare for an emergency situation:

Discuss an emergency plan.

Before an emergency happens, sit down with your family and decide how to contact each other, where you will go, and what you will do in an emergency. At the workplace, make sure you know the emergency exits and evacuation areas outside the building (and inside areas during inclement weather). Have regular communications to ensure employees are aware of risks, threats, and hazards, and what to do in an emergency.

Fill out an official emergency plan and keep a copy in an emergency supply kit or another safe place where you can access it in the event of a disaster. Access it periodically to make sure the information is up-to date and to review it with family and employees. Post a copy of the plan in prominent areas of key work areas. FEMA’s Ready campaign website has a printable family emergency plan and a workplace emergency response plan to get started.

Prepare an emergency kit.

Being prepared means being equipped with the proper supplies you may need in the event of an emergency. Keep your supplies in an easy-to-carry emergency preparedness kit that you can use at home or take with you in case you must evacuate. A few items include water, non-perishable food items, flashlight, emergency blankets, and personal documents. For a full list of items, visit the American Red Cross website.

Develop a communications plan.

Prepare for limited to nonexistent cell phone and wireless coverage. Develop an emergency communications plan and stay connected by doing the following:

Memorize critical phone numbers and fill out a contact card to carry at all times. Relying on auto-dial and contact lists within phones isn’t beneficial if the phone loses battery.

Have a designated single point of communication outside of the emergency area and be sure everyone knows that number to call in and report statuses. It may be easier to make a long-distance phone call than to call across town, so an out-of-town contact may be in a better position to communicate among separated family members.

For the workplace, make sure you have one person be the point of contact for communications outside the organization regarding contacting parent and sister sites, or even the media.

Teach others how to use text messaging. Often text messages will get around service interruptions or when cell phone service (call signals) has been suspended. Text messaging also helps save battery life.

Consider having keychain-size cell phone battery auxiliary packs. These are often solar powered and while not long-lasting, they can provide enough power for sending or receiving brief text messages or calls.

Use technology to stay updated. 

Through the use of everyday technology, individuals, families, responders, and organizations can successfully prepare for disruptions brought on by emergencies and/or disasters. With effective planning, it is possible to take advantage of technology before, during, and after a crisis.

Download the FEMA App to access disaster preparedness tips, build your personal emergency kit, and look for open Disaster Recovery Centers along with open shelters (if you’re a disaster survivor).

Local emergency management officials often have notification systems. Opt-In to a distribution for your community. To find out if your community offers such services, contact your local office of Emergency Management.

Consider emailing or using social media instead of making voice calls on your cell phone to avoid tying up voice networks. Data-based services like less likely to experience network congestion. You can use social media to post your status to let family and friends know you are okay.

Tell your loved ones about the American Red Cross Safe and Well website. People within a disaster-affected area can register themselves as “safe and well” and concerned family and friends who know the person’s phone number or address can search for messages posted by those who self-register. Write down the phone number 1-866-GET-INFO on a contact card should you lose internet access.