September is National Preparedness Month, and we all know the rhetoric regarding disaster preparedness. We know we should have an emergency supply kit stocked with food, water, medicine and other critical items to last several days. We should have a weather radio, phone charger, can opener, flashlight and extra batteries. We should store the supply kit in the basement, away from windows. We should have an emergency plan: escape in the event of fire, shelter in case of tornado, evacuation route for flooding. We know all this, but have we done it? Oftentimes, what happens today takes precedence over preparing for something that may never happen tomorrow.
The Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, IEMA and even local government agencies like Peoria County's Emergency Management Agency offer a wealth of preparedness information. Ready.gov, the American Red Cross and numerous other resources abound to help people become better prepared for disaster: hurricane, earthquake, flooding, tornado, an active shooter or terrorist attack. But as the amount of information increases, so too does our confusion about what is most important. If we can only do one thing this month to better prepare for disaster, what should it be?
Many who have survived a disaster, such as the 2013 tornado or the more recent tornado in Delavan, agree that such a horrific experience helps them focus on what really matters: people. Our primary concern after a disaster is making sure family, friends and neighbors are safe. Surplus food in your supply kit doesn't matter if you can't reach your child. A weather alert radio won't tell you if mom made it. Extra batteries are irrelevant if your neighbor is missing. Therefore, if you can only do one thing this month to prepare before disaster, figure out how you'll communicate after.
Reconnecting with family after a disaster provides great peace of mind; knowing how to reconnect saves a great deal of time and heartache. Consider doing the following this month, beginning right now with step one:
- Download the American Red Cross Emergency App. Navigate to the toolkit via "Prepare," and select "I'm safe." Add recipients directly from your contact list, the people who need to know you're safe: spouse, children, parents, etc. This app will allow you to notify all recipients simultaneously via email or text message. It will also allow you to post the safe message to your Facebook page or Twitter account. Encourage family members to follow this step as well.
- Identify an out-of-state or out-of-area point of contact. Every capable family member should memorize this person's cell phone number. In the event of disaster, everyone "checks in" with the point of contact via text. The out-of-state contact can notify family members of each other's wellbeing. While local phone calls and text messages may not go through during a disaster, out-of-state calls and texts might. Memorizing the point of contact's number is important: if you lose your phone, you can borrow someone else's to check in.
- Text instead of calling. During disaster, text messaging has a greater chance of working than cell phone calls.
- Ensure colleges, schools and daycares have your cell phone number(s). Many schools and childcare centers utilize a text messaging service to convey important or emergency messages to students and parents. This will help parents and guardians of younger children stay informed of their child's welfare.
There are certainly additional resources and ways to reconnect with family after disaster, and any plan should be customized to your unique needs, but one thing remains universal: the relief of knowing your loved ones are safe. Once you know this, you'll be able to eat the food, drink the water, and take the medicine in your supply kit. And if you still don’t have a kit, at least now you're one step closer to being prepared for tomorrow than you were yesterday. iBi