Communicating During a Disaster – Prepare, Plan and Practice

Kristie marked herself as safe…

If you are on Facebook, you may have seen, or even used, this Crisis Response application. The use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter to send and receive messages during emergencies has become common to let family and friends know your status and to report on a situation. Many agencies throughout our county, including the County of Santa Cruz, the Sheriff’s Office, and local fire and law enforcement agencies use social media, in addition to TV, radio, and emergency alert systems, to send important messages to the community.

But remember, preparedness is key! Communication networks, such as mobile phones and computers, could be unreliable during disasters, and electricity could be disrupted. Planning now will help ensure that all the members of your household – including children, seniors and people with disabilities or access and functional needs, as well as outside caregivers – know how to reach each other and reunite in an emergency.

Before a Disaster: Prepare, Plan, and Practice!

Create a Family Emergency Communication Plan

  • Make a list of emergency contacts – be sure you and family members have it handy (and programmed into mobile phones).
    • 911 for fire, police, ambulance, etc.
    • Doctors, medical facilities, pharmacist, veterinarian, schools, service providers
  • Be sure everyone has a copy of contacts in his or her backpack, purse or wallet.
  • Select emergency meeting places.
    • Indoor if appropriate to shelter in place
    • In the neighborhood – if you need to leave your home
    • Outside of the neighborhood ¬– a safe place where your family can reunite if you are not at home and can’t get back to your home (could be a library, community center, place of worship, friend’s home)
    • Outside of your town or city – if you cannot get home or to your out-of-neighborhood meeting place, or you need to evacuate
  • Designate an out-of-area contact person who can be called by everyone in the household to relay information. Be sure this person has contact information for everyone who needs to be kept informed.
  • Store at least one emergency contact under the name “In Case of Emergency” or “ICE” in all mobile phones and devices. (Will help someone identify your emergency contact if you are unable to provide it. Inform the emergency contact about medical issues and requirements.)
  • Find out about your children’s school or daycare emergency communication and family reunification plans.
  • Be sure all family members, including children, know:
    • Who to call and how to call.
    • What to tell them
      • Where are you?
      • Are you OK??
      • Do you need something?
      • Are you safe??
      • Do you know the status of other family members?
  • Keep your children’s school emergency release card current.
  • Keep copies of essential documents, such as identification, insurance policies and financial records, in a secure, waterproof container and keep with your disaster supplies kits. Include a household inventory (a list and photos or video of your belongings). Remember to update as necessary. Tip: you can store these on a flash drive.
  • Discuss and decide on ways to receive alerts and warnings (see below for options).
  • Keep phone batteries charged and have car phone chargers available.
  • Have a battery-powered radio available (with spare batteries).

Practice your plan

  • Have all family members practice texting and calling; include your out-of-area contact in the practice. • Decide on what information you will send by text.
  • Decide on a plan to send information about designated meeting places. Practice gathering household members at your emergency meeting places.
  • Make sure everyone, including children, know how and when to call 911 for help. (Only when there is a life-threatening emergency.)
  • Review, update and practice your Family Emergency Communications Plan at least once a year, or when there are any changes.

During a Disaster

  • Call 911 if you have a life-threatening emergency.
  • Keep your out-of-area contact person updated on your location and condition.
  • Avoid making phone calls except for emergencies. If you must make a call, keep it brief to leave networks available for emergencies. Tip: Use text messages and social media if available for non-emergencies.

After a Disaster

You can register yourself as “safe and well” through The American Red Cross Safe and Well Program. This program confidentially facilitates communication from inside areas affected by disaster. You can also search the list of those who have registered themselves to view messages that may have been left by your family members.