Posts Tagged ‘communications’

Safer at Home in an Emergency

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

 [This article is aimed at people living in a neighborhood with a clubhouse or community center. If you’re building a CERT group in such an environment, you can use these questions for valuable training.]

“In an emergency, we come to the clubhouse, right?”

“No, No, No!”

Think about it. In a real emergency, why would you head for the office, or the clubhouse, or any central meeting place in your community?

Consider these emergency conditions in a clubhouse.

  1. Will the clubhouse be standing?

Unless your clubhouse is brand new, and built to modern safety standards, it is just as likely to collapse as any other building, and probably more likely to collapse than a smaller and more compact building.

  1. Will the clubhouse be open?

If an emergency hits in the middle of the night, every door in the clubhouse will be locked and management will be away. Are you going to break in?

  1. Will there be electricity or phone service?

Does your office or clubhouse have an emergency generator? Where is someone who knows how to turn it on? If no generator, then there will be no lights (after emergency lights have gone off). No automatic doors, no elevators, no air conditioning, no heat. No emergency communications. Not safe!

  1. Will there be food?

A few centers may have kitchen facilities and some food supplies. In an emergency, however, the kitchen cupboards and refrigerators may be locked. There may be no way to heat water or to cook. Perhaps most disturbing – who will decide who gets to be first in line?

  1. Will there be bathroom facilities?

If water pipes are broken, the image of a crowd of people lining up to use one or two toilets that don’t work is . . . well, repugnant. And what if people bring their pets with them?

  1. Where will you get your medications?
  2. Finally, who will take charge of the group?

And will volunteers be willing to stay at the center hour after hour to help out?

Your home is the best place to be.

Unless it’s been designated as an official “evacuation center,” your central community area is most likely worse for survival than your own home.

That’s why our neighborhood CERT group stresses shelter in place.

If you take a look at the same questions from above, and fill in “in your own home,” here are some of the answers you’ll get.

  1. Will the house be standing?

Your apartment, single-family residence or mobile home is as likely to withstand an emergency as any other structure, depending on its age, the kind of disaster (earthquake, tornado, flood, etc.). And since it is your home, you have the opportunity to make it as safe as possible by fastening furniture to the walls, putting locks on cupboards, storing food and water, assembling tools, etc.

  1. Will your home be open?

If an emergency hits in the middle of the night, you’ll be there. And even if you have to get home, you’ll have keys or know how to get safely inside.

  1. Will there be electricity? How about emergency communications?

You may or may not have a personal home generator. But you certainly should have emergency lighting in your home, probably in the form of multiple flashlights and LED lanterns. At home, you can add or subtract clothing, add or take away blankets in order to adjust to weather conditions. And you should have access to emergency radios and first aid materials.

  1. Will there be food?

If you’ve done any preparing, you’ll have water and food, including some food that doesn’t need any cooking. You’ll have your medications – and food and medications for your pets, as well.

  1. Will there be bathroom facilities?

If water pipes are broken, you won’t be able to use your own toilet. Again, if you’ve done some preparing, you may be able to flush using outside sources of water (e.g. swimming pool water). Or you can put plastic bags into the toilet, secure them when they’re full and then put them somewhere outside. Not pleasant – but workable.

Are you thinking there’s a better place than home to be in an emergency?

Are there other people more qualified to help you than you are to help yourself?

Think again!
Virginia and Joe
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S.  Who do you know who lives in a complex with a clubhouse or community center?  Forward this to them right now!  Thanks.

P.P.S.  If you’re working to build a neighborhood CERT group, drop us a line.  We have some experiences and some training materials that we’d be glad to share.

Walkie-Talkies for Emergency Neighborhood Communications

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

“I read you loud and clear.”

Every month, on the second Wednesday at 6 p.m., our neighborhood CERT group clicks on their two-way radios and gets ready to participate in the radio drill.

Radios or Walkie=talkies

Compare sizes of these walkie-talkies to the smart phone in the center of the collection; read about them on our REVIEW page.

The first check-in takes place at the Division level, when the Division Leader checks with 10 or so Block Captains. It’s a quick call: “Division 5 Leader calling Block Captain 5 Alpha. Do you read?” and a quick answer, “Five Alpha reads loud and clear.” Takes less than 7 minutes.

After the Block Captains check in, the Division Leaders and Special Teams (Search and Rescue, First Aid, etc.) switch to the Community Channel and participate in their own roll-call. Another 7 minutes.

What we accomplish with these radio drills is three-fold:

  1. Radios are checked to be sure they are functioning. (If someone forgets to turn the radio off, then when the next month rolls around that radio’s batteries are dead!)
  2. Everyone gets practice using the radios, the channel assignments, and the lingo. (It seems easy to say “Five Leader” or “Five Delta” but non-native English speakers, in particular, need to practice.)
  3. We get reassurance that our community is intact and participating!

Just about a month ago Southern California experienced a 5.3 quake at about 8 p.m. On that evening, CERT group participants grabbed their radios and ran outside to check how neighbors had fared. I stood there in the dark, and soon came the voice of one of my team members, “This is Cheryl, Five Charlie. Is anyone there?” (Protocol slips a bit when there’s a real emergency.)

Cheryl and I were able to discuss our block and ascertain that all was well. I then switched to the Community Channel to check in, and sure enough, other Division Leaders were doing the same thing.

The point is, this simple communications plan worked, worked well, and worked fast. No dialing, no waiting, no ringing, no busy signals, no leaving of messages. Just push to talk.

“I read you loud and clear.”

Take a look at our new review of Walkie-Talkies, just published yesterday. I think you’ll find it interesting and valuable. And let me know if YOU have Walkie-Talkie stories to share. Til then, “Over and Out.”

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team


Legal problems surface as flood waters recede: Four questions to answer BEFORE disaster hits

Friday, October 11th, 2013

Over the past month we’ve seen heartbreaking photos from Colorado: homes washed off their foundations, stores filled with mud a foot deep, livestock perched on islands in a sea of brown water.

Insurmountable legal problems

Pain of dealing with legal problems

Our first concern is for the lives of the people involved. Then, typically, the news coverage moves on, and we are left to our imagination to consider the mess left behind.

Physical mess we understand. But what about the legal mess?

Physical mess we understand. Mud, water, shovels, sweat.

But every picture of a damaged car or home, of a business or farm or highway, represents a potential legal problem, a problem that could last weeks or months and complicate that family’s life forever.

Can we prepare for legal disasters? Yes, we can.

Here are a few questions every family needs to be able to answer.

1. Can you prove who you are?

These days many, many “families” are not legally related. Some family members may not be legal citizens. In an emergency, your problems will be magnified if you don’t have the documents to prove who you are and your legal relationships to others. These documents may include a rent agreement, custody for children or powers of attorney for parents. Have copies of these documents made and store the originals in a bank safety deposit box if possible.

2. Can you prove that you own the lost or damaged property?

Several years ago when a mobile home park in California was evacuated at 4 a.m., residents had no time to gather important papers. 80% of the homes burned to the ground. Months later those homeowners were still having problems proving they had owned the property! Again, add ownership documents (car, home, insurance) to your “Go-Bag” so you can grab it and take it with you even if you have only minutes. Electronic copies work as well as originals in this case.

3. How will your personal obligations be handled if you are out of work or out of your home?

Bills don’t stop just because your house has been flooded. If you pay by check, your check and checkbook may have been lost. If you pay bills automatically, you’ll at least have a few days reprieve. In any case, you’ll need to notify all your creditors of the situation. Do you have a list of who they are and how to contact them?

4. What about business contracts if your business is shut down?

Once you’ve ascertained that your employees are safe, you’ll turn to keeping the business alive. Do you have standing orders for delivery of product – either to or from the place of business? What happens when you default on those contracts? Does your business emergency plan include contacting all employees regarding the work schedule, contacting all vendors and customers to tell them what to expect? What about being ready with an announcement to the news media? These communications plans need to be set up BEFORE anything happens.

These aren’t all the legal problems that may come up, but if you have made preparations to handle at least these four questions, you’ll be in a lot better position to make it though a natural disaster.


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Trapped alive — How to let the world know?

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

In a collapsed building

Rescue workers in earthquake

Who will get there first?

I don’t know about you, but as I watched television the aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco and again following the disaster in Haiti, one thing sent chills down my spine — the thought of people pinned alive and injured below fallen concrete, smashed cars and collapsed buildings, waiting for rescue, waiting, waiting . . .

By way of a side note here: My partner, Virginia Nicols, was lecturing in Silicon Valley the day the Loma Prieta quake struck.  She and two colleagues were discussing the subject of her evening lecture over dinner in a restaurant. 

The three of them went under the table and were uninjured, but damage to the restaurant was extensive with broken glass and fallen shelves throughout. They emerged onto streets with no traffic lights, no sound coming from the car radio.  This was before everyone had a car radio or a cell phone.  I set up an automatic re-dial and got through to her about 2 hours after the quake hit.

The day after she came home (we were living on the East Coast then) we went dining and dancing at a local club.  The fact that it was in an old, refurbished-brick building that would not likely withstand even a light jolt proved so distracting to her that we had to leave 10 minutes after we had arrived.  It took her more than a year to be able to spend time in what her whole being told her were potential death traps. 

And if it were you?

Imagine being buried alive, lying in the darkness, not knowing what the situation is above ground and wondering if anyone would find you before you die.  Imagine having no way of letting your family, co-workers or friends know that you are indeed alive and desperately in need of help.

How to let people know your whereabouts?!

You might immediately think of the emergency alert devices that are particularly marketed to senior citizens living alone. (“I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”)

When you think further, you realize that all of these devices cost money (usually a monthly subscription), operate via cell phone transmission, have specific geographic or protocol limitations and all have fairly expensive price tags.

Cell phones certainly are among the most widely available devices for letting people know where you are and what your condition is in an emergency.  But whom do you notify?  What if your battery dies?  What if the cell phone towers in your area are damaged from the emergency, overloaded with phone traffic or simply inoperative?

The reality is that cell phones have limited reliability in an emergency and, depending on the carrier, they may or may not perform well inside of dwellings.  Without electricity, batteries cannot be recharged so the cell phone may only have a limited life.  And, where the best advice is to have out-of-the-area contacts to call (to avoid overloaded local phone lines), this only works if you even have the ability to call out on your cell phone.

And, I don’t know about you, but I would find it difficult to have the discipline to wait for several hours to make distress calls in the hope that cell phone service would be restored anytime soon.

Is there an answer? 

Well, maybe there are a couple . . .

Silver Whistle

Low tech yes — but it will always work!

First, the low-tech answer.  I don’t see a lot of people adopting it, but it makes some sense. What is it?  A simple noisemaking device called a “whistle.”  I’m not sure what kind of a fashion statement it makes to wear a whistle around your neck every day, but maybe an unobtrusive one on a key chain could avoid some of the potential snickering . . . especially in the work environment.

Something to think about, depending on your daily routine.

As for high-tech option, consider social media to contact people you are connected to.  Again, this depends on whether or not you have wireless access or even whether or not you run you life by your smart phone.  Using your cell phone requires, of course, that you know how to TEXT.  (Here’s an Advisory that explains how to text for those who don’t yet do it every day.)

This is definitely a subject that warrants more conversation and there is no one or easy solution.  For now, I am looking for some more low-tech solutions.


Joe Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Radio Communications — The Vital Link

Friday, March 30th, 2012

More on radios/walkie-talkies

We began dealing with communications a couple of weeks ago. We introduced the idea of using FRS/GMRS Mobile Radios (think “walkie-talkies”) to communicate between team members of a Community Emergency Response Team. (FRS = Family Radio Service.  GMRS = General Mobile Radio Service.  The main difference is that FRS is shorter range than GMRS.) (You can read that introductory Advisory here.)


Walkie-talkies work when phones won’t.

A properly-structured CERT organization has a hierarchy, with Block Captains (responsible for say, 10 homes) and Division Leaders (covering several Blocks) assigned according to the geography of the community.

The CERT organization also has Special Teams such as Search & Rescue, First Aid & Triage, Logistics, Damage Assessments and Communications.

All these teams can communicate via radio if the phones are out.

The beauty of the FRS/GMRS Radios is that they have 22 numbered channels, each on a different frequency. Some of the more sophisticated models have a number of “Privacy Codes” that allow a number of people to hold separate conversations on the same channel.

Low-power radios are best for CERT teams.

Contrary to normal logic, you want to equip your people with the lowest-power radios that still transmit over the immediate community you’re in. The reason is to avoid interference from adjacent communities but still be able to reach across the terrain in your area. It’s a careful balancing act that requires a lot of thought and testing to see which units work best for you. If you have a relatively small, compact area, most of your people could be outfitted with the small Motorola, Model FV150 radio.  It is sold in pairs for under $20 and has a realistic range of just under ¼ mile.

Your Division Leaders and Special Teams Members might use a larger radio, such as the Cobra CXT425 or similar which has the Privacy Codes capability and a practical range of almost a mile. This unit sells for about twice as much as the small Motorola unit, but you don’t need as many and the people using them have greater responsibility.

While these larger units have rechargeable batteries, you’re better off using disposable batteries as recharging batteries can be problematic in emergency situations.

One of our most popular pages is the REVIEW OF WALKIE-TALKIES. If you are considering purchasing radios for your family or your neighborhood CERT team, check here so you can be sure you are getting what you need.

What about ham radio?

We’ll deal with the Amateur Radio Service and the ARES in a separate post. If you have someone in your group that has a ham radio license – or is willing to obtain one – you will have a distinct advantage in an emergency as the Amateur Radio Emergency Service works closely with the local authorities and the Red Cross.

Joe Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team




Priorities of a Personal Survival Plan

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

What should I do first?

React vs respond

This is a simple question, right? Well, maybe it is . . . but, let’s break the overall concept of emergency planning down and see where the points fall. Here’s how we see the challenge:

    1. Staying alive with buildings falling around you, bridges collapsing under you and people to the right and left of you getting injured, maybe even dying on the spot. No question, this is no. 1!
    2. Helping those around you survive is a pretty natural Good Samaritan response in a civilized society. But would you jump into the water to save a drowning person if you didn’t know how to swim?
    3. Situational update to find out what the extent of the disaster is, what areas are affected and what immediate dangers are still present. Having access to a battery-powered radio may be the only way to get accurate information. (Do you keep one close at hand?)
    4. Communicating with family and determining that everyone is safe. This is possibly the greatest post-calamity challenge. If you are a Ham Radio Operator and carry your radio with you everywhere, you can probably get through to someone close to your family who can serve as a go-between. Otherwise, it may be hours or even days before you can complete that connection.
    5. Water, medicines and (eventually) food become important. If you and your family have prepared by building up a three or ten-day supply (including for the pets!) you may be in better shape than your neighbors. But what if they haven’t prepared? Now what? Do you share or bar the door?

We could go on. Depending on where you are, you may have external safety concerns. Toxic chemicals, plants with highly flammable materials or simply an out-of-control population are all potential problems that will affect your priorities. But that’s where serious attention to building effective emergency response plans for the community and the business are important.

If you don’t do your planning before a disaster hits, it’s too late to get your priorities in order.

You – and your neighbors – will simply be reacting to the chain of events instead of responding effectively to them.

Joe Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. To get more about planning for an emergency in your community, head over to BUILD YOUR SURVIVAL SKILLS to the right, click on “Neighborhood.”



Radio Communications in an Emergency

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

In a major disaster, the chances are your telephones won’t work.

Either the lines have been broken or loss of power has disabled some part of the system. Old style telephones rely on land lines and must go through a central office before getting distributed to another connection.  Lines may break or the office may be damaged.

Cell phones, on the other hand, “broadcast” your voice or data to antennas that are connected through a network of computers and then are re-broadcast from other antennas to the recipient’s location.  Even if you have a strong battery, if the antennas are damaged or the computers inoperative, cell phones won’t work.

And, finally, with everybody on a network trying to get through at once, the circuits (which typically can only handle about 10% of the total subscribers at best) will be overloaded and calls won’t go through . . . especially local point-to-point calls within the affected area.

The problem?  The central points that all calls have to go through to make connections. 

All these points rely on external power from the grid – which may be down as well.

So what’s the answer?

Very simply, walkie-talkies.  They are an inexpensive and practical way to communicate within a neighborhood between C.E.R.T. members. While their range is limited to a mile or less for most inexpensive units, that is usually sufficient for communicating within a neighborhood.  After all, since the frequencies are public, you really don’t want to be receiving other communities’ conversations in the middle of your response activities.

Why are Walkie-Talkies able to communicate when telephones can’t? Simple. These two-way radios are self-contained, providing their own power from rechargeable or replaceable batteries. They broadcast directly, point-to-point on the Family Radio Service (FRS) and General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) assigned frequencies without the need to go through any central office or computer.

Action Item:  We advise people to keep one inexpensive (about $10 ea.) walkie-talkie unit in each room of a house or office so that people who may be trapped can communicate on a pre-agreed-upon frequency to notify searchers that they need help.

There’s much more here on the subject of communication and the discipline of CERT volunteers in using the different frequencies. We’ll also be addressing the question of power interruption and alternate power sources in an emergency.  Stay tuned.  But pick up a pair of radios in the meanwhile.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

If radio communications are of interest to you, you may want to review these Advisories:

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