Posts Tagged ‘Emergency communications’


Walkie-Talkies – A Few of My Favorite Things

Monday, January 22nd, 2018
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walkie-talkies

 

As I’m typing this Advisory, there’s a Cobra MicroTalk lying on the shelf beside the computer. When I get into the car, I note the little Motorola tucked into the door pocket. In the garage, we have a couple Uniden models clipped to one of the shelves.

You’d think we like walkie-talkies, wouldn’t you?!

Yes, we do!

We use walkie-talkies all the time!

  • When we head to one of the big box stores, we grab a couple of walkie-talkies. There’s no way we can stay together while shopping.
  • One person being dropped off at the entrance while the other finds a parking place? Let’s find each other later using our walkie-talkies.
  • At the fair, when the kids head for the rides, one of the adults is looking for the nearest restroom. Everybody having a walkie-talkie makes it easy to stay in touch.

And our families use walkie- talkies, too!

  • The little granddaughters play hide and seek throughout the house, walkie talkies in hand.
  • The big grandkids take them with as they head up the mountain and split off for different ski-trails.

Of course, here at Emergency Plan Guide we’ve written often about how all members of our neighborhood emergency response group have walkie-talkies. In the event of a widespread power outage or emergency, when cell towers are down and landlines disrupted, we’ll be able to communicate with each other about the condition of the neighborhood and our neighbors.

If you haven’t seriously considered adding walkie-talkies to your supply of emergency gear, it’s worth taking the time to do it now. Here are some basics about the technology to get the process started.

What exactly IS a walkie-talkie, anyway?

The word itself pretty much describes the gadget. With it you can walk around and talk to someone at a distance. That “walkability” distinguished the early walkie-talkies from telephones, which allowed for communication but were tethered to a wire.

A more accurate description might be something like “hand-held, portable radio that can transmit and receive.”

Walkie-talkies came into widespread use during WWII and have been used ever since.

What makes them so popular?

They are simple, light weight and easy to use. No dialing, no ringing, no waiting for the call to “go through.”  Just push the button and talk. Works every time.

One handset connects directly to another via radio waves – or to several handsets, as long as they are set to the same frequency. They’re perfect for letting a group know all at once what to do or expect next.

How do they work?

The technology itself doesn’t seem to have changed much from the earliest models. Here are the basics for lower-priced models.

The handsets are powered by batteries. They each contain a transmitter/receiver and built-in antenna. There’s a loudspeaker that allows you to hear and that can convert into a microphone when you want to speak.

The whole listen-speak action is controlled by a button on the side of the set. When you “push to talk” (PTT) everyone else on your frequency can hear you. Only one person can talk at a time on the frequency; everyone on that frequency can hear what is being said.

How far do they reach?

Simple walkie-talkies have limited power and a range of at most a couple of miles in any direction. More power and more sophisticated circuitry can give a walkie-talkie a range of 25 to 30 miles. The distance the signal can reach depends greatly on whatever gets in the way – hills, buildings, trees, etc.

When you’re buying walkie-talkies you want to decide how far you need to send your signal. No use overpaying for capacity you don’t want or can’t take advantage of.

Are there any restrictions on using walkie-talkies?

Walkie-talkies are built to work on specific radio frequencies. Certain frequencies are assigned to First Responders, some are set aside for corporate use, and others are designated for public use. Within the public category, there are low-watt FRS (Family Radio Service) and higher-watt GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) frequencies available.

These public walkie-talkies have from 8 to 25 or more frequencies so you can switch to a different frequency (or channel) if a channel is too busy or you want more privacy.

How much do they cost?

Walkie-talkies come in pairs. Prices range from less than $20/pair to over $100/pair, depending on the features you want.

What features should I look for?

Your shopping list will probably include a consideration for . . .

  • How much power (FRS is limited to 0.5 watt; GMRS goes up to 5 watts)
  • How many batteries and what size
  • How many channels
  • How sturdy
  • Water resistant or water proof?
  • Features to filter out interference
  • Privacy features
  • Add-on features: flashlight, ear buds, tone signals, etc.

As always, the more features you want, the more the price goes up. Again, consider who will be using the radios and for what purpose.

Where do I get walkie-talkies?

Sporting goods stores, electronics shops, and toy stores may carry a model or two. And of course they are available online. Our Emergency Plan Guide Review of Walkie-Talkies goes into all these features in more detail. If you’re seriously considering a purchase, head over to the Review NOW to see which models we’ve selected as good examples of what’s available.

If you’re still wondering . . .

. . .if having some walkie-talkies makes sense for you, consider a few more non-emergency situations where people use walkie-talkies effectively and happily.

  • Keeping track of other hikers in your group when you’re deep in the mountains and far from any cell service
  • Deciding when it’s time for the other tubes in your rafting party to pull over for lunch
  • Tracking the kids as they explore the cruise ship
  • Meeting up with a colleague at a convention
  • Letting your spouse know when to turn the water on again in the house after you think you’ve got that outside drain unplugged

We find a way to use these handy gadgets on a regular basis. Using them regularly makes sure they’ll be ready in a real emergency.

We recommend walkie-talkies for just about everybody.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. In the picture above, the little Motorola on the left didn’t work for some of our senior emergency team members; they had to remember too many button sequences to change channels, adjust volume, etc.. As you might expect, our grandchildren have no problems with this model. . .!

 

How prepared is your child?

Wednesday, October 11th, 2017
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How prepared is your child?

Ever been accused of being overly protective of your children?

Maybe it’s true. And it’s doing them a disservice, because . . .

When it comes to an emergency situation – you MAY NOT BE THERE to protect your child!

The good news?

Children are trainable! They are resilient! Give them tools to work with, and they can surprise you.

(Heck, this goes on throughout your life as a parent!)

Start where you are.

Here are some questions you can ask your kids to see just how well they would manage BY THEMSELVES in an emergency.

Of course, the first reaction for most small children would be to run crying for you. But what if you are not there? These questions are designed to help your child think past that initial reaction and move through to the next step.

How well the question-answer conversation goes will depend for the most part on your own ability to guide it in a meaningful way – i.e., with the right amount of information for each child. (It’s easy to go overboard . . .!)

But if you can help your child realize that there is a course of action he or she can take that will be smart and that will help . . . then you’ve made a huge difference in how well things will turn out.

So, some sample questions. Pick one to start with.

  1. If there’s a fire in the house, what would you do first?
  2. If you are at the park playing, and you feel an earthquake, what would you do?
  3. If you’re home alone, and you hear our smoke alarm go off, what would you do?
  4. If a policeman is knocking at the door, what would you do?
  5. What if you try to call 911 and no one answers?

These are pretty tough questions. Your child probably won’t be happy even thinking about something happening when he’s alone.

Still, given a bit of encouragement, your children can probably come up with some good ideas.

The purpose of the conversation is to remind your child that emergencies DO happen, to figure out what your child knows already about dealing with them, and then identify more good ideas and turn them into action steps.

Build simple action steps with your child.

What follows are some examples of action steps that might be appropriate. You will build your own list, depending on where you live, the makeup of your household and the skill level of your child.

  • Be sure you can tell a Firefighter or a Police Officer your whole name (first Name, last name) and where you live (your street address). (I’ve met 6 year old children who are unable to talk to adults.)
  • Memorize your home telephone number or a parent’s cell phone number. (This applies to older children, too!)
  • Know at least two ways you can get out of the house. How can you get out of the second floor of the house if you can’t go down the stairs? (Only kids who like the idea of “escaping” have really considered this!)
  • If the lights go out, find a flashlight. (Where?)
  • Fix a meal while you’re waiting for things to get back to normal.
  • When you feel an earthquake, the first thing to do is: ____, ____ and ____. (Children in California schools know this one.) What if the earthquake happens at night when you’re in bed? (Cover your head with the pillow. Don’t jump up and run barefoot through the dark house! Flashlight? Shoes?)
  • Call 911 in an emergency.  (Having a landline will allow even small children to call for help. If teens and adults all just have cell phones, a small child may have no options.)
  • If there’s no answer at 911, what does that mean?
  • Don’t automatically open the door because someone says so. (What else could you do?)
  • When you can’t stay in the house, or can’t reach it, go to our “safe place.”
  • If you have to leave in an emergency, grab your go-bag.
  • In an emergency, wear shoes.
  • And more . . .

Now, it’s on to the most important, third piece of this plan.

Practice the action steps.

When a disaster disrupts your child’s regular routine, a back-up plan THAT’S BEEN PRACTICED will fall into place. Without that practice, the child will likely be unable to make any good decisions.

Every one of the steps you’ve come up with in your conversations can be practiced.

Here are examples that you can use as starters.

  • Go room-by-room through your house and identify 2 exits from each room. (Windows work if they’re not blocked by bushes or bars.) You may want to draw a floorplan of the house and show those exits.
  • Climb to the second floor to see how to get out without going down the stairs. If you have a fire escape or an emergency escape ladder, assemble it and climb down. If you or your child can’t make it down, you can’t count on the ladder to save anyone!
  • Practice reciting address and telephone numbers. The number of your out-of-state contact should be on your list of memorized numbers, too. IF YOUR PHONE IS OUT OR GONE YOU WON”T BE ABLE TO PULL UP NUMBERS FOR AUTOMATIC DIALING.
  • Pick a place for flashlights or emergency lights and make it a game to find every one. Try to keep the lights in their assigned places so you could find them in the dark.
  • Make sure your child can prepare a simple (uncooked) meal while she’s waiting, or get to an emergency snack. This simple job will be reassuringly normal.
  • Practice making phone calls using a variety of phones.
  • Build family go-bags together. Right on top: SHOES (and then a flashlight). Stash the bags in an appropriate place.
  • Grab your go-bag and take a walk to your “safe place” (assembly point) outside the house or further away in the neighborhood. Have the child lead the way. Take the walk again, in the dark.
  • Practice communicating using walkie talkies.

Add more skills as your child gets older.

Schools train children on some of the basics. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have emergency preparedness and first aid training, too. FEMA and CERT offer programs especially for high-school-aged children.

If you take your kids camping, that’s a perfect time to practice a whole other group of survival skills: building a fire, understanding how to build a shelter, knowing when it’s safe to drink water, “capturing” water using a plastic bag over a branch, tying knots, using tools, administering basic first aid, reading a compass, etc.

If you are looking for more info on preparing children, consider these resources:

www.fema.gov/children-and-disasters

This page lists a whole collection of resources aimed at different age levels and different audiences (for example, educators, social services, etc.). Some of the programs are co-sponsored by Ready.gov, the Red Cross, Dept. of Education, etc.

https://www.ready.gov

This easily accessible site has good descriptions of what to expect in a particular type of emergency (hurricane, tornado, etc.) and helpful suggestions for building a go-bag. (Don’t forget our Emergency Plan Guide booklet on how to build customized bags.)

The KIDS section at Ready.gov offers a series of simple comic books with accompanying tips for parents and educators.

http://www.savethechildren.org  Resources at this site include some downloadable checklists for parents and for child care professionals. The checklists might be appropriate for members of your emergency response group, too.

In summary . . .

Grab some of the resources listed here, and build disaster preparedness and response reminders and actions into your daily family routines. Add new “content” as your children get older.

Disasters will happen.

Unless you have prepared your children to take action without you being there to tell them what to do . . . they are more likely to be hurt, trapped or at the very least, traumatized.

Protecting your children from disasters isn’t as good as preparing them to get through successfully.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

Back to School Emergency Checklists

Thursday, August 10th, 2017
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Safe at School Ready for the first day of school?

Every year new students wait eagerly for that first day of school. And often in the background, proud yet nervous parents hope their child will flourish in this new environment.

Many parents have already “done their homework” on what will be necessary for their child’s success. Parents and children have shopped for school supplies and probably some new clothes, too. Older students have invested in everything from electronics to sheets and bedspreads.

Everything is ready! Or is it?

What about being ready for an emergency at school? Are the children prepared? Are parents prepared?

If you’re a parent, use these questions to put the finishing touches on back-to-school preparations for your student.

Grade-school Parent Checklist

While there are no national guidelines for emergency preparedness for schools, you can find out your child’s schools procedures. You may need to be persistent to get answers to these basic questions:

  1. Threats. What emergencies does the school prepare for? (fire, natural disasters, active shooter?)
  2. Supplies. What emergency equipment is available for teachers, and have they been trained on it? (fire extinguishers, first aid kits, emergency lighting, lockdown safety kits?) Are several days’ survival supplies (food, water, blankets) for kids and faculty stored at the school?
  3. Student Practice. What emergency response procedures do students practice? (evacuation, lock down/secure school, shelter in place?) How often?
  4. Communications. What communications can you as parent expect in case of an emergency at school? (a phone call or text? notice on public radio or TV? a written follow-up report?)
  5. Parent Responsibilities. What does the school expect of parents? (list of emergency authorized caregivers/family members, provide emergency supplies for child?)

What if your persistent questions are not answered?

Worse, what if you realize that there are no answers to some of these questions at the school your child attends?

Step up and take a leadership role.

You can help improve the situation. Join the PTA. Get a copy of the 2013 Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans and, with a committee, put together recommendations for necessary changes based on your own location, size of school, etc. Present your recommendations to your school administration along with whatever publicity is appropriate.

The Guide is available for download here:   https://rems.ed.gov/docs/REMS_K-12_Guide_508.pdf and may also be available for purchase at Barnes & Noble. While the Guide was written by a number of government agencies (FEMA, U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Federal Emergency Management) it is perfectly readable!

(I add this exclamation point because some similar documents are NOT readable by the average person, even ones as dedicated as I am!)

As you might expect, the Guide introduces the standardized “vocabulary” used by professional emergency planners everywhere, concepts such as Prevention, Protection, Mitigation, Response and Recovery.

It also includes a discussion of privacy issues and the need to plan for disabled people.

The list of “emergencies” in the Guide needs to be updated, once again. In 2013 “active shooter” was added to the list of threats. Now, given developments in North Korea, Hawaii is formally adding “How to Respond to a Nuclear Disaster” to its emergency response plans!

College Campus Checklist

Every school will be different in the way it handles emergency preparedness. As a parent of a student or prospective student, you can help make sure the self-reliance you’ve encouraged at home will continue when your student is away at college.

Up until now your student may have counted on you for direction. Now that responsibility has shifted.

In working together to get answers to the following questions you’ll get the process started.

  1. Threats. What emergencies does the school prepare for? If your new school is in a totally different part of the country, the experiences you’ve had with natural disasters, for example, may be irrelevant. What NEW or DIFFERENT threats exist at this campus?

    UC Berkeley’s Office of Energy Management website starts with this eye-opener: “All campuses have their faults. Ours is 74 miles long and runs directly under our campus . . .!”

  2. Procedures. Who are the planners and the actual Responders on campus? It’s usually easy to find details on the campus website. (Check out Berkeley’s for example.) Read about security procedures, emergency operations, etc. Are all emergency plans only for administration and faculty? What role does the campus envision for students – do they get any training?
  3. Student Responsibilities. On nearly every campus students are expected at registration to connect with all emergency communications methods. This usually means providing emergency contact information (text, phone numbers, emails) and signing up for an alert service.
  4. Campus Resources. In addition to the emergency alert system, your campus may use sirens or loudspeakers to issue warnings. It may have a campus emergency website, emergency radio station and/or toll-free emergency information lines. Know when and how to use all these resources! Incidentally, it’s possible that the 911 number you’ve always considered as “your” emergency number may not be the best one on campus. Find out about special campus emergency numbers. Store all this info in your phone.
  5. Parent Responsibilities. As an adult, your student will be expected to make his or her own decisions in an emergency. Encourage your student to learn about evacuation routes, understand the definition of “shelter-in-place,” and to maintain at least a minimal survival kit. Some first aid knowledge helps, too. (Here’s an Advisory with more about survival at college, with particular emphasis on personal safety.) Of course, parents can probably access campus emergency websites or toll-free numbers, too, for up-to-date info when something happens.

As always, it’s the people closest to you — roommates, people on your floor — who will be there when the emergency happens. They are the ones who may need help — or will be able to help YOU. Building a strong team around you is the best thing you can do for your safety! 

Action Item: If your children aren’t quite ready for school, or are long past that stage, please pass this Advisory on to someone whose children are of school age.

Being ready for the school year happens to someone new every year!

Virginia 
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. One of our readers sent us his school’s “Emergency Information” publication delivered to all parents. It was crammed with good information — but unfortunately, “crammed” was the operational term. If you get something like that from your school, attack it one page at a time. There are sure to be good ideas hidden in there. Then share them with us!

P.P.S. This week the National Fire Protection Association came out with these pertinent statistics for college students:

 Firefighters respond to 11 dorm fires a day, and 86% of them are related to cooking!

If your college-aged kid is considering a hot plate or a microwave (legal, of course), at least review some safety measures. And don’t forget a Kitchen-sized Fire Extinguisher! (I own this one and like how it fits in because it’s white.)

 

 

 

 

Are Your Employee Communications a Disaster Waiting to Happen?

Thursday, August 4th, 2016
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Many companies are being forced to set up or beef up their emergency employee communications plans. Those that don’t may be courting liability.

Being sued for no disaster plan

Being sued . . .

Read on.

In today’s news, we learn from a simple press release that “The Boston Globe is making customized comprehensive safety guidelines available to all employees via a mobile app.” (That’s my emphasis.)

What does this have to do with YOUR company?

Start with these questions:

  • What has your company done about emergency response and emergency communications? Does it have a plan?
  • Is your company keeping up with what others are doing?
  • Is it meeting its legal responsibilities?

 

Managing emergency communications is an ongoing challenge.

 

1 – You face threats today that may never have been threats in the past.

Again, recent news stories tell of oil train explosions, once-in-a-lifetime flooding, live shooter events and cyberattacks that can cripple entire enterprises.

Is your workplace communications system set up to respond to “new” disasters as well as the usual ones? When did you last do a “risk analysis?”

2 – New technology means the world may hear about your emergency before your front office does.

What’s your procedure for making sure employees get instructions and the public – including suppliers and customers – gets factual information that will staunch rumors?

As Paul Barton, a business communications specialist says, “Rumours are created for a specific reason: they fill in the information void. If an organization does not tell staff what is going on, they will make up their own story.”

And today, that “story” will be out via YouTube and Twitter before the smoke has a chance to clear!

In the past, companies usually assigned one person to be the spokesperson in an emergency. Today, every employee can instantly reach a huge audience. You can’t stop that, but you can train employees in how to communicate.

3 – Employee turnover means your “communications plan” must be continually updated and employees must be regularly trained or they won’t be able to use it.

Not only does your workforce change, but the company premises themselves change. You may change your phone system, switch to a different internet provider or IT set-up, add a new website or a new office, invest in mobile devices for the whole staff, etc.

All these give the business and employees new communications options that must be considered in the emergency communications plan.

4 – Don’t overlook the families.

You may expect your employees to be ready to step up to protect the business and pitch in to get it back on its feet in an emergency.

Guess what. You may be wrong.

Over and over again in disasters, employees – even First Responders! – have abandoned their posts because they were desperate to find out if their families were safe.

If you can reassure employees about their families, your business continuity plan has a much better chance of working.

What this means is your emergency communications plan has to put family communications right up at the top. It must ask and help answer questions like:

  • How will the company communicate with employee family members regarding the status of the business and the employee?
  • What plan does the family have to get in touch with each other in an emergency?
  • Does the family have an out-of-state family contact person?
  • Has the family designated a place to go if they get separated and/or they can’t get back to their home?

 

5 – What responsibility does the company really have?

The “Prudent Man Rule” (now probably referred to as the “Prudent Person’s Rule”) has been around in the financial world for nearly 200 years. It says that someone responsible for another’s interests should exercise the same care, skill and judgment that other “prudent men” in that position would exercise.

When articles like the one about The Boston Globe appear in the daily news, you must ask yourself,

“If others are setting up new ways of communicating with employees during emergencies, could we be found deficient or even negligent if we haven’t updated our own plans?”

Here at Emergency Plan Guide we’re not offering legal advice. But we do know that businesses and particularly owners get sued. We believe they can improve their chances of coming through the legal system safely by demonstrating that their decisions with regards to emergency response planning are consistent with good practice.

Two more resources.

Action Item:  If your company’s emergency response plan needs updating, take a look at these for inspiration.

This article reviews the different groups that may sue you after a disaster, and suggests three steps you can take immediately to protect yourself from legal fallout.

If you haven’t thought about physical security, this article will list some “prudent steps” that other companies are taking in this regard.

Once again, this isn’t legal advice, but I hope it falls into the category of “good business” advice.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

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Smartest Emergency Purchase I’ve Made Lately

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016
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When it comes right down to it, having a simple phone plugged into a traditional landline simply makes sense. And when it costs so little . . .!

Corded phone for emergencyFive reasons to go out today and buy a corded phone.

 

1 – It works when other phones are knocked out or overwhelmed in an emergency.

How many times have we talked about what happens to regular phone communications in a widespread emergency? Power can disable cordless phones; cell phone towers can fall; systems can be overwhelmed. Ultimately, any device powered by a battery will stop working.

Landlines are the most reliable of all the options.

2 – Emergency Services will pinpoint where the call is coming from.

When you call 911 from a landline, emergency services know just where you are. When you call from a cell phone, they have to go through extra steps (using GPS) to find you. And if you’re on the tenth floor, and the only ID the emergency services get is the address of the building . . . When seconds count, a landline wins hands down.

3 – Your kids (visiting grandmother, babysitter) can operate a simple corded phone.

My granddaughters play with their parents’ cell phones all the time. That doesn’t mean they know how to actually turn a phone on, get past the password, find the phone app, and use the phone to make a call.

EVERY kid above the age of about 2 can be taught how to dial 911 from a simple phone.

Not every adult carries a phone, either. Consider elderly relatives. They, too, would easily be able to make an emergency call using a phone like the one in the photo.

4 – Yes, someone could tap the line – but not a random hacker.

Privacy is a concern whenever you’re using wireless communications. A landline is secure unless someone has actually installed wiretap equipment onto your line.

5 – You won’t misplace or lose it.

Your emergency phone is tethered to the wall. It will always be in that place so you will always be able to get to it immediately.

What will it cost?

A neighbor told me he’d bought a simple phone recently for “around $10.”

Frankly, I found that hard to believe. Still, when Joe went shopping for a phone yesterday, he came home from Walmart with the one in the photo. And it had cost him $5.95!

Naturally, you can get fancier ones, with a bigger price tag. (Check out our friends at Amazon. Use the search words: “corded phone.”) But we were looking for the simplest model possible.

Joe opened the box, pulled out the phone, and . . .

We plugged it into a wall jack — instant dial tone.

No registering, no passwords, no set-up, no waiting for a battery to charge, no software upgrades.

(What a relief after we had spent hours over the past week getting our over-the-air antenna to work with our TV and our Amazon Fire Stick. That’s another story, of course . . .)

Now, since the phone doesn’t store names or numbers, you’ll have to dig out an address book to go along with it. Or simply type up and print out a one-page sheet of emergency numbers as part of your family communications plan. (If you have children, you are likely to have this page already prepared for babysitters.)

Fasten this page to the phone itself, or tape it to the wall next to the phone, so it doesn’t get misplaced.

That’s it! It has taken me longer to write this Advisory than it did to get the phone set up.

Action Item: Do yourself a favor and get your own corded phone today.

You will definitely feel smarter and you and your family will definitely be safer!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

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Good Radio Communications Key to Successful CERT Operations

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015
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Walkie-Talkie Update!

If you’ve been following us here on the Emergency Plan Guide you know that we place communications at the top of the priority list. Without a well-designed Communications Plan and reliable, easy to operate hand-held radios (walkie-talkies), you simply don’t have a fully-functional team. Over the past three years we have reviewed and recommended several models, depending on your geography and the models available.

Sample Communications Plan

Sample Communications Plan showing Channels

In our case we have six Divisions, each with 60 homes each. Each Division operates on a channel that corresponds to the number of their Division (1 through 6) and Division Leaders communicate with Incident Command on Channel Seven. Special Teams each have dedicated channels (9-22). The image at left shows how we’ve laid out our plan for each Division.

We No Longer Recommend the Compact Motorola FV150 Radios.

One of our favorites, the low-cost (under $10 ea. In packs of two) Motorola FV150 is no longer readily available, and the cost has gone up. We bought dozens of these at nearby Target stores and ordered them from Amazon with free shipping. We favored this compact model because it was both low cost and low power . . . which meant that it was ideal for apartment, condominium and manufactured home campuses where residents were close together and line-of-sight was the dominant terrain.

High power wasn’t necessary for our Block Captains and, in fact, was a detriment in that interference from nearby users could interrupt emergency broadcasts.

However, these units did have one major flaw that became apparent with use. They presented something of a challenge for senior citizens who weren’t raised on Mario Brothers or other digital distractions. Operation of these units was simply too complex for many people.

We Also No Longer Recommend the Cobra CXT425C.

We favored this model specifically because it was higher power, albeit more costly ($16 ea.) than the Motorola. We issued these to our Division Leaders because they communicate across the campus with the Incident Command Center and Special Teams, such as Search & Rescue, Logistics and Damage Control, etc. (These units come with rechargeable batteries that will likely be a useless convenience in case of an extended power outage. We use regular AAA batteries and supply extras to all of our 70+ Team Members.)

These Cobra units are ideal for communicating between Divisions and Incident Command and, especially during busy multi-tasking, the Cobras incorporate a privacy convenience. While this extends their versatility, it’s a feature we rarely use.

The problem for us? These models are only sporadically available through Amazon at this price and, when they are, it recently has required a bulk purchase of several in order to get them. While they are available elsewhere, the price is higher and the added shipping makes the purchase unnecessarily expensive. Fortunately, we have found an alternative that serves both purposes.

The Uniden 16-Mile 22 Channel Rechargable FRS/GMRS Two-Way Radio Pair – Black (GMR1636-2C) is Both Compact and Easy to Operate and Has The Same Long Range as the Cobra.

We are, in fact, in the process of replacing all of our Block Captain’s Motorolas with these and issuing them instead of the Cobras for our Division Leaders and Special Teams Members. At less than $30 for a set of two, they are well within our budget and we recommend them for your team as well. These are actually an upgrade from the earlier version, but the only difference of any real consequence is that they come with rechargeable batteries and a dual plug charger.

Our first round of purchases were limited (by Amazon) to a maximum of 18 units. Our most recent purchase was not restricted in any way, so it may just have been a supply/demand situation.

As mentioned previously, we operate all of our radios with regular AAA batteries. Unfortunately, one of our local sources has discontinued sale of their Energizer line in favor of the new red-topped Duracells. While we have just begun testing these new Duracells, our experience with the Coppertops was not as good as the Energizers. While they both go bad if left in the units for extended periods, the Duracells seemed to corrode more often and at a higher rate than the Energizers. The corrosion usually destroys the units.

Hopefully, you find this information valuable. As we have said repeatedly, these radios are the most important purchase you’re likely to make in setting up an operational CERT program.

Joe Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Interested in learning more about our experiences with walkie-talkies? Take a look at these pages on our site:

 

 

 

Ultimate Emergency Communications Device

Monday, October 13th, 2014
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PowerOutageIn earlier Advisories we’ve talked about how best to communicate during an emergency when the power is out. Here’s the likely drill:

  1. First, try an old-fashioned landline; it may work when your rove-a-phone doesn’t.
  2. Try your cellphone. But if lines are overloaded, you won’t get through there, either.
  3. You’re down to option #3, a text message. Because it requires so little bandwidth, it may get through. But if cell towers are down, too? No luck.

So what’s the one phone that is most likely to ALWAYS get through?

You guessed it – a satellite phone!

The sat phone bypasses wires and towers altogether, shooting straight up to one of the satellite networks positioned 500 to 1,000 miles above the earth.  Given their position, the satellites are seldom affected by storms and thus won’t be impacted by whatever has hit your local community.

I thought I’d really only seen satellite phones in the movies. Typically, they were boxy and big, with an awkward antenna. And they seemed to appear mostly in the hands of the government, military or quasi-military, and usually on a ship somewhere.

Over the past few years, however . . .

sat phone technology has become refined and phones are now found in the hands of civilians around the world.  (So I may have seen one without realizing it!)

There are a number of companies offering the service, with phones that are now not much bigger than your cell phone. (You can see two of the most popular, the Inmarsat IsatPhone Pro Satellite Phone and the Iridium Extreme 9575 Satellite Phone at Amazon. Each looks to be about half-again as long as a typical cell phone, and to weigh about twice as much.)

Different services, high prices.

Although the different networks work differently, and have different coverage and quality, they do have one thing in common:  a relatively high price.

To buy the phone, expect to pay between $500 and $1500.  That’s just for the phone itself. You can pay more to get more features, like GPS, tracking, Bluetooth and WiFi capabilities. Most basic models allow you to send and receive text as well as email messages.

In addition, you need to pay for airtime.  You can prepay for the time or you can buy a monthly contract. Satellite airtime can be less expensive than cellular roaming rates, or a whole lot more (up to $10 a minute!), depending on which service you have. So, it’s back to knowing in advance just what you need the phone for!

Other things to keep in mind:

  • A satellite phone won’t work inside a building. It needs access to the sky in order to “find” the satellite.
  • The antenna needs to be extended, so you can’t put the phone in your pocket and expect to know when you’re receiving a call.
  • Phone numbers seem to be more complicated. It reminds me of the work-arounds we used to see, where people dialed a local number to get to a trunk line and then another number to get to their desired party.
  • There may be dead spots, depending on where you find yourself. Trees, jungles, buildings and mountains can block signals.
  • Audio quality may not be as good as what you’re used to.

Even with all these imperfections, satellite phones have become standard equipment for business and for governments. A temporary rental (day, week or month) is easily managed over the internet, with the phone shipped right to you at home. Again, read carefully to be sure you get the accessories and the air-time bundle you need.

When it comes to emergency response, you may want a satellite phone for a particular period of time (say you’re going on a trip), for a season, or all the time.

It’s the ultimate in communications reliability.

As you consider your emergency communications needs, don’t overlook this technology. It could be the insurance you want. (Paying $6.50 for a minute of hearing your child’s voice – priceless!)

(My thanks to author Marc Weber Tobias, whose article in Forbes was the basis for much of what I have written here.)

 

Virginia

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. If you have used a satellite phone, let us know your experience!

 

 

 

 

“Phone home!” VOIP for Business Continuity

Monday, August 11th, 2014
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Remember 1982? E.T. had a problem! He’d been accidentally left behind by his family of extra-terrestrials. In the film, he built a communicator that magically reached them through space, and he was able to “go home.”

Voice over Internet Protocol, business continuity
Today, you won’t have to invent a new device on the spot if communications go down at your business.

VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) has some magical features you may be able to plug into immediately.

Imagine this scenario.

Your business is located in the center of an area where a severe storm has crippled communications. Phone lines are down, cell towers are down, electricity is out.

Your business is “dead in the water!” How long can it survive if customers, suppliers or the bank can’t get through?

VOIP may mean they WILL get through!

Because it is based on the cloud, if you or one of your employees can access the internet from anywhere, you can still conduct business. With VOIP, all you have to do is get online to your account and reprogram your service to allow employees to work from home or from any remote location. For example, with VOIP you can:

  • If possible, physically take your phones with you when you evacuate the office and plug them in at a new location.
  • Forward the office main line to ring to your personal home or mobile phone.
  • Forward lines to home computers to handle voicemail and for softphone (internet) calls.
  • Add temporary extra lines to handle a higher volume of emergency calls.
  • Add new greetings to let callers know office hours have changed.
  • Set up conference or teleconference calls.

Get set up before the emergency.

Naturally, you need to have your plan in advance for re-programming the system in an emergency. And everyone needs to know how to use all the features of the system.

(Consider having everyone work from home from time to time – maybe just a half-day? – to practice.)

There are a number of VOIP services; prices start at 10/mo.; most are around $25/mo. and depend on features, number of lines, number of minutes you need, whether you call internationally, etc. You can check some of them out here: http://voip-service-review.toptenreviews.com/

VOIP has become an important option to consider for business communications and continuity. Check it out for YOUR business.

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

 

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Personal Emergency Communications – Staying In Touch After A Disaster

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014
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Personal Emergency Communications

New book!

We’ve been focusing lately on emergency communications for small businesses, knowing that after a disaster, a business will need to be in touch with employee families, with customers and, of course, with employees that may be in distant offices, on the road, etc.

We even put together three short videos for business. You can find out more about them here on the site: http://emergencyplanguide.org/work/Resilient-Business-Videos.

But wait, there’s more on emergency communications!

As you can imagine, the more expert we become about any given technology, the more there is to know! In the spirit of continual learning, Joe picked up a book today and I’d like to recommend it to you.

“Personal Emergency Communications, by Andrew Baze”

The subtitle of this book is “Staying in Touch Post-Disaster: Technology, Gear and Planning.” You’ll find chapters on each. Depending on your level of sophistication and your interest, you may want to skip a couple of them, but the basics are all here.

Baze starts – and finishes – with these four questions.

1. How will you contact anyone if your landline, cell phone and internet connection don’t work?
2. Will you be able to talk with family and friends after a serious emergency or disaster?
3. Do you have a communications section in your personal or family emergency plan?
4. Do you even have a family emergency plan?

By the end of the book, if you take action as Baze recommends, you’ll be far closer to answering these questions with a “Yes.”

Some highlights from the book.

Some of what you’ll read has been covered several times in Emergency Plan Guide Advisories. But there are some areas we haven’t really spent time on, such as the use of CB radios and Personal Locator Beacons. (You can expect more from us on both of these!) And Baze captures your attention with some very dramatic stories.

We were particularly struck by Baze’s recommendations for what he calls “Your Calling Clock.” That’s a plan for WHEN to try to reach others in an emergency, such as from 5 minutes before to 10 minutes past the hour. His sample Calling Clock plans are really good ones, particularly for a family that is likely to be spread out when disaster hits.

You can get the book from Amazon by clicking the link below. It’s $10.79 as a softbound, and less than $4 in the Kindle version. (I always prefer to have the book in my hands so I can highlight or underline and flag certain pages.)

Personal Emergency Communications: Staying in Touch Post-Disaster: Technology, Gear and Planning

Let us know your thoughts about it!

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Texting 911 in an Emergency

Sunday, May 18th, 2014
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We’ve all heard about how a text message might get through in an emergency when a regular phone call might not.
Certainly, everyone needs to add texting to their emergency skill set. (Add this to your to-do list if you haven’t already.)

Text to 911But what about trying to reach emergency services by texting to 911?

As of three days ago (May 15), people who use AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon can send text messages to 911, and their calls will be routed to their local police dispatchers — BUT ONLY if the county they are in supports the technology!

According to the website govtech.com, if you live in Vermont, Iowa and Maine, you will reach a dispatch center if you text to 911.

But where I live in California, there’s no such service.

It all depends on the individual counties and whether they decide to adopt text-to-911.

Want to know whether text-to-911 works in your area? Check at this website, which was updated as of 5-16-2014 when I wrote this: http://transition.fcc.gov/cgb/text-to-911-deployments.pdf

If there’s no service where you live . . .

In places where the service has not yet been instituted, if you place a text-to-911, you’ll get what the industry calls a “bounce-back” message. It tells you to contact emergency services another way, like by making a voice call or using TTY or a telecommunications relay service (for people with disabilities).

(I’ve never really tried this so I can’t vouch for what the message actually says.)

Text-to-911 Limitations

Before you get excited about this emergency communications option, consider this:

  1. You might be able to make a 911 call while driving – but certainly not a text message!
  2. If the dispatch center wants more info – like the cross street, or details of the situation (cars involved, number of people injured, for example) – it would take a lot longer to text than to simply answer the question.
  3. A text certainly couldn’t convey the emotion of the situation – hysteria, shots being fired, angry voices, etc. This could be important information.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed rules that would require text providers to support text-to-911 by the end of this year (2014).

It remains to be seen if this goal can be met. Texting capability may require upgrades to local dispatch centers, phone companies, equipment vendors and manufacturers, and local police and fire departments. It is likely to require that additional dispatchers be hired.

So it all comes back to the individual counties. Stay tuned . . .

Question: Have you had any personal experience with texting to 911?  How did it go!?  Please let us know in the comments.  This is one of those situations where the rest of us are operating in the actual dark!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team