Posts Tagged ‘first responders’


Are you sabotaging yourself?

Thursday, May 25th, 2017
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Hiuding in the woodsDo you ever roam the internet, checking out different survival forums and blogs?

Well, naturally, I do – to better understand “the communities,” learn about new products and practices, and stay up to date with some of the latest science regarding emergency response.

When I find interesting or exciting new ideas, I try to share them on our Advisories.

One theme I don’t share very often – the paranoia I see out there.

Here’s sort of how it goes:

“When the SHTF, expect bad guys, marauding gangs, vigilantes, even government troops, to start roaming the streets coming for you and for your supplies so you’d better be ready with weapons and lots of ammunition and be able to turn your home into a fortress or better yet, escape to a hidden, hardened survival shelter where you can wait it all out.”

I’m not saying some bad stuff couldn’t happen, or that having an escape plan doesn’t make sense. What I do question, though, are the implicit recommendations in this scenario. I see three of them:

  1. “Treat all others as potential aggressors.”
  2. “Arm yourself with serious weapons.”
  3. “Pull yourself into your shell and close the doors after you.”

As I see it,

The reality of the most likely emergencies is going to be very different.

For example, last week we talked about an emergency that shuts down your work completely, like a fire or flooding. In a situation like this, you may suffer a personal disaster because you don’t have money in the bank to meet your bills while you are out of work. Others you work with may suffer, too. But roving gangs as a threat? Probably not.

We’ve often talked about the most frequent emergency at work – a power outage. Statistics suggest that as many as 70% of businesses can expect to experience an outage during the next year, whether weather-related or from equipment breakdown. Once again, your company, its customers and maybe even shareholders will suffer – but all of you being well armed won’t make a bit of difference.

In fact, in the U.S., disasters have seldom left people on their own and scrambling for supplies, for more than a few days – the exceptions being Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

So, our recommendations at Emergency Plan Guide are built on a different set of assumptions.

Neighbors. I know them, their kids and their dogs. I may not consider them “best friends,” but they’ve never hesitated to lend a helping hand. They’ll be the first to show up in an emergency. Why wouldn’t I look to them for help?

Self-defense. Yes, as I wrote in my bio, I grew up with guns and I’m comfortable with them. But I think the emphasis on guns (handguns, shotguns, automatic weapons) — and also tomahawks, and machetes — encourages people to arm themselves who have no business having weapons. They will make an emergency situation even worse.

(As embarrassing as it is to admit, when Joe went through specialized weapons training with the military, he learned how to shoot all sorts of weapons. Unfortunately he couldn’t qualify as a marksman with any of them! So weapons may be more dangerous for us than for intruders . . .!)

Self-reliance. Yes, be sure you have a sensible stash of food, medicines, etc. But to count on one family to have everything it needs? How much easier to share the cooking, child or elder care, and medical knowledge and skills. How much more effective to share tools and work together on repairs. Share the fear — and share confidence and hope when you can. Self-sufficiency is positive; isolation is lonely and negative.

And as for the government . . .

Again, some survivalist blogs and forums have members who are passionate about hating the government, the police, and, in fact, any “authority.”

Here at Emergency Plan Guide we have been fortunate to build good relationships with all kinds of “authorities” in our community. I write often about the fire fighters and police and the CERT team members with whom we work closely.

One of the advantages to these relationships is that we have a pretty good idea of what to expect from the authorities in an emergency. In an emergency, we won’t be guessing – or second-guessing – what they are likely to do.

For example:

  • We know how our police department has been trained to respond to active shooters – and how their procedures have changed in the past year or so. (We’ve even been invited to participate in a drill as civilians caught in an active shooter situation.)
  • We know what emergency facilities our local first responders have. Heck, we’ve been inside most of them, and seen the equipment in action!
  • We’re tuned in to local emergency services that deal with homelessness, missing people and drug overdoses. We know who to call and what to say to get an appropriate response.
  • We’ve checked and are clear on how our local police force is handling coordinating with ICE on immigrants in our community.
  • We receive regular bulletins on how local schools plan for emergencies.

This isn’t everything we’d like to know, but it’s a pretty good start!

What does it take to get up to speed about local policies and procedures?

Here’s some of what our local group members do on a regular basis.

  • We follow what our city is doing by going online to the city website.
  • We take tours when there’s an open house at a fire station or the police department.
  • We sign up for official emergency alerts (AMBER alerts, etc.).
  • We track the police department via its Facebook page.
  • We’re on the list to get invitations to CERT follow-up trainings. (The most recent one was on terrorism.)
  • We invite “the authorities” to come to our local emergency response team meetings as guest speakers – and then ply them with questions. (Yes, we have put them on the spot from time to time!)
  • We subscribe to various online industry news feeds.

If you’ve been reading our Advisories, then you know we also share what we learn from these various field trips and events – so our immediate neighbors and several hundred Emergency Plan Guide subscribers from across the country know what we know.

In our estimation, by choosing NOT to know details like those above, and NOT being open to working with a group,  you are sabotaging yourself and your chances of coming through a disaster.

No, I don’t expect the authorities to “save us” in an emergency. In fact, they have made their limitations clear. Frankly, I’m glad to know that they WON’T necessarily show up immediately . . . because it gives me an incentive to do a better job of my own preparedness.

But our philosophy has been, and continues to be, to include family, friends and co-workers in our planning, because . . .

The more we all know, the safer we all will be.

Thanks for reading.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

When to Activate Your Emergency Team

Sunday, March 5th, 2017
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Quick! Call the Fire Department!

Emergency call

EMERGENCY ALERT!

Just before Christmas we had a fire here in our neighborhood. One of our neighbors heard a “ZAP” as he turned on the overhead light, and noticed smoke curling from the fixture. He ran outside to grab a garden hose, but as he scrabbled around to find it and then opened a sliding porch door to get back into the house, the fire exploded and knocked him right back down the stairs.

Ultimately, the home burned  down. Our neighbor was pulled safely away from the steps by an on-the-ball visitor. And fire engines arrived to protect the houses on either side.

What was our Neighborhood Emergency Response team doing during all this?

One member of our team was the first to call 911. Other members arrived on foot and helped keep the streets clear for emergency vehicles. (When the police arrived, the police took over, of course.)

Somewhere along the way, a few phone calls alerted other members of our team, including our group “Commander” (me), whose home is far enough away that this all went on without my even realizing it!

Later, we discussed how things went.

Decide: Big Emergency or Small Emergency?

Our group has been set up to help people prepare for “widespread emergencies when First Responders are overwhelmed and unable to respond.” Usually, that means preparing for “the big one (earthquake).” In that case, it will likely be hours if not days before our community gets assistance. We’ll need to deal with possible structural damages, roadway blockages, injuries, need for food, etc.

Our group educates and trains for big emergencies. It does not activate for localized, small emergencies, such as a fire or some sort of medical emergency. Those belong to the professionals.

We confirmed that this fire did not officially fall within our charter.

Choose: Active Bystander or Emergency Response Team member?

At the same time, when any of us hear a loud crash, or hear sirens and see an emergency vehicle pull up down the street, we’re curious and want to help if we can.

Individual members of our group have helped out in situations like this in the past:

  • At an accident in town, one member, first on the scene, parked her car across a lane to keep the victim from being run over.
  • One member alerted a hotel employee to grab his fire extinguisher when she saw flames coming from underneath a bus unloading passengers at the entrance.
  • One member used his “gas sniffer” to reassure a neighbor about a strange smell – and discovered a leak in his own BBQ! (That same gas sniffer operator has identified the smell of marijuana, too. Those are stories for another times . . .!)

The point is, many team members are ready and willing to step up without waiting for a formal group activation command.

When you recognize and safely intervene in potentially dangerous situations, you fit the definition of active bystander. (There is also the “passive bystander,” someone who recognizes a bad situation but takes no action to stop or solve it. That’s not likely to fit anyone reading this Advisory.) In those cases, you’re acting as an individual and not as a CERT or neighborhood group member.

Communicate better for better results.

Part of CERT training is being ready to take charge. In the incidents described above, our individual CERT members made decisions and got other people to follow orders. We’ve often discussed the importance of projecting authority with the help of:

  • Loud, simple verbal commands (“Come to me.”)
  • Appropriate hand signals (“Stop.”)
  • A uniform (vest and/or helmet)

And when appropriate, you’ll want to activate your team.

Verbal commands and an authoritative posture work here, too. And for the group to function best, you need appropriate tools and protocols. After the recent fire, we reviewed our own communication protocols.

Communication steps.

Here’s what we agree on:

  1. Use a phone to CALL 911. (Don’t text to 911.)
  2. Use cell phone, landline, email and/or text messaging to alert other members of the team. (Have their numbers programmed into your phone’s memory.)
  3. Switch to hand-held radios (walkie-talkies) for efficient, immediate group-wide communications – or if regular phone service is out.
  4. Set up command center to manage a larger network. (Our command center is an officially-recognized HAM radio station with direct contact to the city’s emergency communications system.)

As we’ve described, our local group practices using our hand-held radios with a regularly-schedule monthly drill. Our HAM radio station operators belong to a city-wide group; they practice weekly.

Essential tools and equipment.

This Advisory points to the equipment that every group member needs to have and be familiar with. In particular:

Simple team uniform – a vest.

CERT graduates have their own vests; all our group members who aren’t CERT grads are issued inexpensive vests like this one. (They’re not likely to be worn often, so they don’t need to be top quality.) We encourage our members to carry their vests in the car, assuming their car will be where they are in an emergency.

Ergodyne GloWear 8020HL Non-Certified Reflective High Visibility Vest, One Size, Lime

Personal cell phone.

Everyone has his own phone, with his own provider. However, for emergency team members that phone needs to be able to store numbers. The owner should sign up for local automated alert programs (iAlert).

And the owner needs to know how to send a text! (Some of your members not too sure? Check out this Advisory.)

Hand-held radios (walkie-talkies) for team members.

We have reviewed walkie-talkies several times. As with all electronic devices, you can expect changes in what’s available. In any case, you should be able to get a short-range pair of hand-held radios appropriate for your local group for $30-40. Read our review page – it has questions to help you decide just what capabilities you need, and shows several popular models. We particularly like this Uniden model because the buttons clearly show how to change channels and raise and lower volume. Some of the smallest walkie-talkies combine functions on just one button, making it harder to figure out.

Uniden GMR1635-2 22-Channel 16-Mile Range FRS/GMRS Battery Operated Two-Way Radios – Set of 2 – Black

If you’re a candidate for a ham radio (and the licensing that goes along with them), here’s an article about these radios, too, with some info about how they differ from simple hand-held walkie-talkies. Prices vary from $50 to $450, so know what you need before you buy!


BaoFeng BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen) 8-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio (136-174MHz VHF & 400-520MHz UHF) Includes Full Kit with Large Battery

Emergencies happen frequently. Some we can help with, others are handled by First Responders and we have no role. Still, when a real emergency DOES happen, and you are there as witness, being ready to take positive action is something to feel confident about, and proud of.

That’s why we train, isn’t it?!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

The examples in this Advisory are all drawn from our own neighborhood group. They could just as well apply to a workplace group. If you are responsible for emergency preparedness at work, go back and see if your leaders and team members have the essential tools and equipment they need.

 

 

 

How to Light a Flare

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016
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Accident in Darkness

Winter darkness makes accidents on the road hard to see and even more dangerous.

Having a good accident kit in the car can help protect YOU, and might help protect others if you come across an accident scene.

An accident kit is different from a car survival kit. The survival kit has stuff for YOU – warm clothing, flashlight, food, water, etc.  The accident kit has stuff for the CAR, like jumper cables, emergency reflector triangles, flat tire inflator, and flares.

Does your car accident kit have road flares?

When it’s dark, there’s nothing better than flares to warn oncoming vehicles of an accident, a stranded car or even an injured person. Flares are easy to get, easy and safe to store, and they last a long time. The problem that people have with ‘em is . . .

How to light a standard industrial flare?

Our CERT group had the opportunity to practice one evening with the police department. We hung around in our official vests, enjoying the cool evening and the chance to see each other again. When it came time to light the flares, however, some of us looked pretty dumb.

It’s not as simple as you might think!

Here are some guidelines that I took away from that evening.

1Have more than one flare so you can warn oncoming vehicles and direct them around the accident.

2-Pick where you want each flare to go BEFORE you attempt to light it. Once the flare is burning, you will not want to carry it around to be positioned! It’s BURNING and shooting off white-hot bits!  Some things to keep in mind:

  • If there’s spilled gas, don’t use a flare nearby at all.
  • Keep flares on the road so they don’t roll into a ditch or catch vegetation on fire.
  • Go to where you’ll place the flare, and then light it.

3-Remove the cap on the flare to expose the rough striking surface.

A flare has a plastic cap. Part of the cap contains a rough “striking surface.” Under the cap is the “igniter” end of the flare. You want to hold the striking surface in one hand and the flare in the other.

4-Light the flare by scratching it across the striking surface.

Extend both arms and scratch the flare across the striker in a movement going away from your body.

It’s rather like striking a very large match. Too soft a strike, nothing happens. Too hard, and you can break the “head” off the match.

In our group, most people had trouble getting the right amount of pressure and speed to get the flare to light. One person actually broke the head off the flare because he “scratched” too hard.

5-Place the ignited flare where you had planned to place it.

Put the cap back on the non-burning end of the flare. If you’re carrying it, keep the flame pointed down so you don’t get any drips on your hand.

Don’t drop the flare – you could break or extinguish it. Don’t place the flare in a puddle – it could go out.

If it’s raining, place the flare so any running water goes around the base of the flare and not directly against the flame end. You can prop it up to keep it dry.

6-The flare will burn for 10-30 minutes.

When you’re ready to extinguish it, break off the burning end and let it burn out. You cannot easily smother this flame.

(In our group, we picked up the burning flares and carefully tossed them a little ways down the road. When they landed the burning end broke off.)

After practicing, we all felt more competent.

It’s like so much else. Until you’ve practiced, you really can’t count on being able to make it work! So here’s a suggestion:

Buy a supply of flares and set up a practice. Even if everyone doesn’t attempt to light a flare, everyone in the group will clearly see how it’s done – and what NOT to do! A great CERT group exercise, and a great family exercise, too.

Hi-tech No-Flame Alternative  — LED, Battery-driven Flares

Obviously, First Responders use “real” flares because they work! Everyone recognizes just what they mean, and starts paying attention as soon as they become visible.

But not everyone is ready to handle industrial flares as described above!

If you find this just too challenging, consider a good alternative: plastic strobe light flares that are safe and comfortable to use.

These flashing, reusable flares come in two styles – stand-up flares with a tripod base, and round, disc-style flares that lie on the ground or attach magnetically to a car.

I personally prefer flares that are really bright and can be seen from all sides – so the disc style would not be my first choice.

In fact, here are flares that we own. (We also own reflective triangles made by the same company). I particularly like that they come in their own case; otherwise, the flares (and their bases) can get lost in the trunk of the car.

Click on the link or the image to get full details. (As you know, we’re affiliates at Amazon so this link will take you there.)

Magnatek LED Flashing Roadside Emergency Beacon Flares-Two RED Flares with Solid Storage Case

A couple of hints if you’re considering flares like these.

  • Each flare has 3 different settings, one of which converts it to a flashlight. Handy.
  • The flares use AAA batteries. If you leave the batteries installed in the trunk of your car for weeks and months, ultimately they will corrode. So, store the batteries in a baggie UN-INSTALLED but in the package with the flares. Of course, it makes sense to PRACTICE installing them as soon as you get the flares so you’ll be able to do it in the dark and when you’re nerves are frazzled because of an accident.
  • These flares also have magnetic bases so you could place one on TOP of your stranded vehicle for more visibility.

 

(This image – for one order — shows the front and back of the case. It’s misleading. Each individual case comes with two flares. If you want more than two, then you’ll have to order more cases.)

Another good idea for a stocking stuffer!  (A very large stocking, perhaps!)

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Again, a reminder to check the status of the batteries in your emergency lights, flashlights, etc. They ultimately do go bad if not recharged or replaced. Now’s a good time to do that.

 

 

Gift That Will Save a Life

Thursday, October 13th, 2016
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Vial or File of Life – a Great Gift Idea for Family or Employees

We are constantly looking for ways to engage our communities in “preparedness thinking.” It’s not always easy. For some reason, many people prefer to fall back on “It won’t happen to US!” as the reason they don’t do any planning.

However, everyone has seen an ambulance pull up to a home or business, lights blazing. Everyone stops for at least a moment to wonder what is happening inside.

We can use this fact to raise awareness in our neighborhoods or workplaces. Here’s a GIFT that you can arrange for that people will value – and that could make a difference between life and death.

The Gift: The Vial of Life

At a recent meeting with the Fire Department we were reminded that when First Responders are called to an emergency in a home, they automatically look for the victim’s VIAL OF LIFE.

Vial of LifeWhat is the Vial of Life?

The Vial is really simply a container that holds essential medical information for the people in the house – information that First Responders will want to know if they have to give emergency treatment.

Originally, the info was put into an actual vial (like a medicine prescription bottle) but these days, the preferred container is a simple zip lock Baggie. You can see the plastic baggie in the image (blue stripe).

What goes into the Vial of Life Baggie?

The Baggie holds a filled-out Medical Information Form. It’s the form in the picture, with places for info such as:

  • Name of person in trouble
  • Name of Doctor
  • Medical conditions
  • Current medicines/prescriptions
  • Allergies
  • Contact information for family

Where do I put the Vial of Life Baggie?

Identify the Baggie by placing a decal with a red cross on the outside. Fold the Medical Information Form and place it inside.

Then fasten the baggie to the refrigerator door with tape or a magnet.

(Naturally, you’ll want to keep the Medical Information Form updated – that’s why it’s best to use a zip lock style baggie so you can take papers out and replace them.)

How does the Fire Department know I have this information on my refrigerator?

Depending on the layout of your home, place the second decal with a red cross on the front window or door to your house. This will let the Fire Department know you have a Vial of Life Baggie on the refrigerator.

Even without the second sticker, they will likely automatically look there for medical information.

Anything else I need to know?

Depending on your circumstances, you may want to put other information into the Baggie. For example . . .

  • If you have appointed someone else to make medical decisions for you in an emergency (common for senior citizens), you may want to include that info along with directions to where the full document can be found.
  • Your Advance Health Care Directive, which tells what emergency life-sustaining treatment you want, can also be included. (That form is available online and must be witnessed by your doctor.)
  • Finally, if you have specific end of life wishes, such as the desire to donate your body, you may want to include that info, too.

These documents are important.

Without the Vial of Life information, emergency personnel will follow their STANDARD PROCEDURE – which may NOT be what you want or can even survive.

How to Use the Gift with Your Group

If you want people to participate, you have to make it easy for them.

The “easiest” is to create Vial of Life kits, already assembled, and pass them out to all the members of your group. Each member of the family needs one!

You can go to http://www.vialoflife.com to get the masters for everything you need.

Assemble into individual kits:

  • Instruction sheet
  • Baggie
  • 2 Decals (print your own using color printer onto white labels), one for the Baggie and one for the door
  • Medical Information Form

If you prefer, turn this into a group activity. Provide sheets of decals, piles of forms and instructions and the baggies and have group members set up an assembly line to separate and assemble the kits.  Next step is to distribute kits to neighbors, family members, etc. (You could add a pen as an extra incentive to get the form filled out!)

We distributed Vial of Life kits to our community about three years ago. Many of our neighbors, who don’t participate in any of our neighborhood emergency response team activities, still have their Baggies and point proudly to them.

The Vial of Life has been a successful and inexpensive awareness builder for our team. Add it to your own group’s agenda!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

If you are looking for other emergency response team ideas for group activities, please don’t overlook the book of CERT Meeting Ideas I put together earlier this year. You can get details here.

 

 

Abandoned in a disaster?

Thursday, June 30th, 2016
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Helping people with disabilities.

This is my 5th year of writing weekly Advisories, and my 15th year of participating in my local neighborhood emergency response team. During that time I’ve attempted to address the challenges of helping people with disabilities during a disaster.

Not suitable for wheelchair usersThe first time the subject came up was after Katrina, when we heard the horrific stories of people left behind in their nursing home to drown. Then, after Hurricane Sandy, stories came out about people trapped in their high-rise apartments when the power – and thus the elevators – were out for days and days.

Most recently, I received an email from a reader asking if I had any advice for her newly-formed Emergency Team, particularly on how to plan to help neighbors suffering from dementia.

So for the past couple of months I’ve been reaching out again for resources.

Let me warn you – I have not found much!

But let me share what I have found, and invite you to comment or to incorporate some of this into your own local planning. I’m posing these as questions you can ask in your own community.

1 – Should we maintain a Registry of people with special needs?

Several online articles mentioned efforts to build lists of people who might need special help in an emergency. I found references to what looks to be a robust registry in Santa Clarita, California, and the Calgary Police (Canada) started a new such registry in 2015. However, other registries that I attempted to research have gone out of business!

I even posed a question online in a special LinkedIn group, and over two dozen people were kind enough to respond. The consensus: many people with disabilities do not want to be on any list – mostly because they don’t trust that their information will be kept private.

Check your local community for what’s available and confirm that it is secure.

2 – Does our city have special plans for First Responders when dealing with people with disabilities?

We have a great relationship with our City’s Office of Emergency Management, so we invited the head to speak to our group. One of the questions we posed was this one. His answer, “We do not have special plans because we don’t know exactly what will be needed.”

Since this answer wasn’t exactly satisfactory, I have dug deeper into training that is available for First Responders. In fact, there are resources available online, for free, that would be useful for First Responders and for ALL of us. We will be building them into our regular trainings starting in September.

Some simple and sensible guidelines:

  • Don’t make assumptions about people’s abilities or disabilities in an emergency situation. Ask.
  • Everybody will be disoriented in an emergency, so expect a range of emotional response.
  • Treat people with respect. Somebody who can’t see isn’t necessarily deaf or stupid. Be patient.

Tips for First RespondersTwo resources I found most useful:

Tips for First Responders from the University of New Mexico. You can get a pdf that lists tips for dealing with 12 different situations: seniors, people with service animals, people with autism, etc.  The online link: http://cdd.unm.edu/dhpd/tips/tipsenglish.html

A set of training videos for First Responders comes from the Nisonger Center at Ohio State University. I found them thorough but long. This is the YouTube link:  https://youtu.be/VRa3oU09XIE?list=PLjdWYCi9CWHblC5668uTXiMoTHNEdyUaw

3 – What should people with disabilities do when it comes to emergency planning?

There is really only one good answer. If you have special needs, you are in the best position to plan for your own safety.

It’s up to you to build your own personal support network. Members of your network can be relatives, neighbors, friends and co-workers. You need more than just one person; you need people you can trust to check on you and people who know your capabilities and needs.

As part of my research I received many great referrals, but one document that appealed to me particularly comes from FEMA and the American Red Cross. Preparing for Disaster for People with Disabilities and other Special Needs is a brochure with a lot of basic information, but in my estimation, it’s the “Complete a Personal Assessment” section that is most valuable We will be using this assessment list with ALL our members..

Action Item: Get this Assessment; it starts on page 3 of the booklet: https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/897

I have no doubt that we will be revisiting this topic many times. If you have a recommendation for EmergencyPlanGuide.org readers, please share it in the comments below.

Here’s to a better chance of survival for your entire community!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

I’ll be publishing excerpts from the materials mentioned in this Advisory. Don’t miss them. Sign up to get all our Advisories below.

 

 

 

 

 

Gated Community Keeps People Out

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015
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Gated communityWhat about First Responders?

Gated communities are more popular than ever. People seem to agree that the gates are a symbol of security and exclusivity.

That’s all well and good until there’s an emergency and suddenly the gates become not a symbol but an actual barrier to entry for residents and First Responders.

Run a quick search online and you will find, like I did, some outrageous stories of people inside their gates, waiting and waiting for help while police or the fire department waits outside — powerless to get in.  In fact, you’ll find stories of people who died, waiting.

The problem of emergency access to your gated property may never have been discussed because no emergency has ever arisen. But if you live in a gated community,  have gated parking at your workplace, or know someone who does, part of your emergency preparation is to . . .

Get the answers to these 5 questions.

  1. Mechanism. How do First Responders open your gates? Is there some sort of lockbox requiring a physical key? An electronic card reader? A punch-in-the-code pad? A remote that requires batteries? A system that responds to light or sound (siren) frequencies?
  2. Updates. If you have a key-pad, who reports updates or changes in the code to the authorities? In two of the stories I read, the management company for the community had changed. The new company changed the code. Nobody reported the changes to the local dispatch.
  3. Keys. If you have a lock-box system with a unique key, who manages the keys to your community? Does each gated community in your area have a different key, requiring First Responders to have a huge key ring? What assurance do you have that the key has not been compromised or illegally duplicated?
  4. Knox Box. A common lock-box system is called the Knox Box. (Open the box to get to a switch that opens the gate or to a key to open a gate, a home, etc.) All boxes in a local area operate off the same key. If you have a Knox Box, how do First Responders keep track of their master key? Is it floating around somewhere in the cab of the fire engine?
  5. Power outage. And the most important question of all: What happens to your gates when the power goes out? Do your gates have a fail-safe override mechanism that allows a gate that isn’t working properly to be manually pushed open so that vehicles or people are neither locked in nor locked out?

Some years ago I lived in an apartment building in Northern California that had parking under the building. I drove in through a gate that raised up when I pressed my “clicker.” When the power went off, the gate remained down. It was way too heavy to lift by hand. If I had the key to the “pedestrian gate,” I could park outside the building and get in through a locked gate near the pool. Otherwise, I was stuck standing outside on the street.

Now I live in a gated community in Southern California. (Don’t worry, I’ve lived in other states too!) Several years ago we upgraded our unmanned gates to the Click2Enter system.  Residents get a battery-powered clicker; First Responders open the gates with a click of their mobile or portable radio transceiver (which has to be programmed with specific frequencies).  First Responders enter with no noise and no fuss. (That’s our gate in the photo. You can see the blue and white Click2Enter box attached at the left side of the center column.)

When the power goes out temporarily, our gates can continue to operate on back-up battery power. (We can count on several power outages a year.) In an extended outage, the gates will open and then remain open.  (This has caused our Emergency Response Group’s security committee to make special plans to keep strangers from entering. That’s another post for a later day.) .

Since we’ve had no problems, we had no idea of what to expect until we began to dig into the issue.  I suggest you dig into the details of your own gates before something happens in your community or at your workplace. The fact that there seem to be few if any building standards for gate operation means you may come up with a surprise!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide team

 

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Evacuate Immediately!

Saturday, May 31st, 2014
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Evacuate ImmediatelyIf someone said to evacuate RIGHT NOW, would you be ready?

  • Do you know where you would likely be heading?
  • Do you know if your pet will be allowed to go there with you?
  • Do your family members/children, who aren’t at home right now, know where you will be and how to contact you?

Here’s more about evacuations that might help you answer these questions!

Who actually gives the evacuation order?

News reports always talk about “the authorities.” In our local community, evacuation orders are given by the fire department and executed by the police department. To get the most attention and the best response to evacuation orders, professionals recommend that the warnings be issued as coming from ALL sources available (First Responders, local government, Red Cross, National Weather Service, etc.), so as to make them more credible.

Once I leave, when can I come back?

Generally, once an area is evacuated, residents will be prevented from returning until officials declare an all-clear.

If the evacuation takes place “too early,” authorities are challenged to retain control of the once-evacuated area. There’s always the danger of looters trying to sneak in. And residents go to all lengths, finding their way by back roads, etc.,  to get back to their homes to pick up valuables and particularly to deal with pets that were left behind.

What if I don’t want to leave?

As a private citizen, you can always leave your home at any time if you feel threatened. By the same token, you can refuse to evacuate if you think your home is safe, you need to provide continuing care to a family member, etc.

If an area has been officially evacuated, though, emergency personnel may be pulled away from your neighborhood and you will be left on your own. (For a very interesting view of the kinds of people who don’t respond to evacuation orders, check out this blog post: Why don’t people evacuate?”

What if I can’t leave?

You may not be able to evacuate because you don’t have access to transportation, you are mobility impaired, or you can’t afford to leave. Obviously, officials will try to provide evacuation services where possible.

In Hurricane Sandy, some people with mobility issues were trapped in high-rise buildings when electric elevators no longer worked. Only if friends and neighbors know of disabled neighbors are they likely to be able to help. If you know that evacuation would be impractical or impossible for you, your preparations for sheltering in place need to be more rigorous.

Get more about how to cope with evacuation for people with disabilities here.

Where do I go?

Your city or county will have already identified potential public shelters. Look for a list online or request one from your property manager, local fire department, etc. If an evacuation is called, you will be told where shelters are open and space is available. Don’t head for any shelter until you know it is open!

Interestingly enough, only about 15% of people go to shelters; most evacuate to friends, family or to hotels.

Can I take my pet?

Traditionally pets have not been allowed in Red Cross shelters. People end up leaving their pets at home, or leave them in the car when they have reached the shelter. Obviously, you would want to find a shelter or hotel that is “pet friendly” well in advance of an approaching storm. You can do that research beforehand. As for large animals (horses, etc.), sometimes they can be cared for a facilities such as fair grounds, etc. Check with your vet for resources and further information.

What should I bring?

Your evacuation kit should always be prepared and ready near the exit of your home. You won’t have much room in the car or even in the shelter, but your kit should contain some food and water, medical supplies, prescriptions, sturdy shoes, clothing and blankets. Having an emergency radio and flashlight is smart. Have a list of important emergency contact phone numbers; copy important papers onto an electronic “flash drive” and include it in your kit.

The Emergency Plan Guide comprehensive Checklist has two lists, one for the “Survival Kit” and another for an “Evacuation Kit.” We also have a Pet Emergency Checklist.

Hope this has made you think about how YOU will handle an evacuation order!

Virginia Nicols Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Have you been through an evacuation?  Tell us what happened and what you learned . . .! (If you have a whole story, I’d love to publish you as a guest blogger.  Just let me know.)

Lessons from the Village of Cold Spring – Seven Steps for Eastern Cities

Sunday, September 1st, 2013
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An excellent article by Michael Turton came out today in the Philipstown.info. It hit on important preparedness issues for cities in the east – or anywhere, for that matter.

Map of Cold Spring NY

Thanks to Wikipedia for this map.

(In case you aren’t familiar with this part of the country, the Town of Philipstown is in Putnam County, New York. Two incorporated villages lie within the Town. The Village of Cold Spring, focus of Turton’s article, is one of them. It lies across the river from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.)

If you don’t have time to read the whole article, here are highlights, with my comments. Every single one of these points could be an action item for your group or community!

1. Leadership. Set up a local committee if you don’t have one yet. Turton’s article refers to a specific committee being put together for the Village of Cold Spring. The Mayor and a Trustee sit on the committee, as well as residents.

2. Registry. Find out who in your community needs special care. First Responders need to know who lives where and what special circumstances exist, such as a need for oxygen or wheelchair access. Having this information allows them to check even before a storm hits. The Cold Spring committee is starting with volunteer participation in assembling a resident registry – but the committee is willing to consider a local law if necessary.

3. Local centers. Identify local venues that could serve as temporary respite centers – but not necessarily “shelters.” As reported in the article, a formal “shelter” may require security and medical personnel.

4. Emergency supplies. Put shelter in place as first priority, evacuation as second. Of course, shelter in place requires that people have survival kits for the first 72 hours, enough to get them home safely. And then, at home, they need more emergency supplies to carry them through.

5. Priorities. Set guidelines for the distribution of community resources: sandbags, medical supplies, pumps, fuel supplies, etc. Who gets first access?

6. Gawkers. Educate the community about the dangers of gawkers. (Aside from Virginia Nicols – This is a tough one! We’ve had neighbors get all in a huff when our local team kept them from driving right up to the site of a fire, impeding the fire department and hindering rescue efforts!)

7. Authority. Make sure people know HOW to turn off community utilities (gas, lights, etc.) and that the turn-off switches work in all conditions. (Another aside from Virginia: Authority to turn off community systems – such as natural gas distribution systems — needs to be limited, and those people need to be properly trained.)

Here in the west, more groups are forming this month to do precisely what the Village of Cold Spring has begun. What’s going on in YOUR community?  Let us know by sending a comment.

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

The Fire Next Door!

Thursday, September 27th, 2012
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It could have been so much worse.

We had an emergency in our neighborhood this last week. Didn’t fall into the category of widespread disaster, but we are all still shaking our heads about “what could have been” if it had been a windy day…

House burning

A total loss

One of our elderly neighbors called AAA because her car wouldn’t start. She hadn’t used it in months. Well, AAA came, started the car, and suggested that the owner let it run “for a while.”

An hour later, she had fallen asleep. And that car, parked right alongside the house, was beginning to smoke.

Quick action by observant neighbors.

When the mailman came by, the car and carport were engulfed in smoke, and flames were licking at the house itself. About that time neighbors saw the flames, too, and called the fire department. The mailman pounded on the door and pulled the shaky and confused resident right out into the street. She was safe.

Meanwhile, the house was burning.  Three different fire stations responded to the 911 calls, as did a number of police cars.

By the time First Responders arrived…

By the time they arrived, CERT members had taken in the homeowner and called her relatives, and were clearing the streets of gawkers in order to allow ready access to the First Responders.  CERT training made it easy for these neighbors to act promptly and with authority!  The CERT team members didn’t save the house — even the fire department couldn’t do that — but the neighborhood was definitely safer as a result of their actions.

Action Item: Make sure all your cars are properly maintained, exercised on a regular basis, and always have at least a half-tank full of fresh gas in case you need to evacuate. This simple discipline will save your investment, and may well save your life.

 

Emergency Preparations for Older People

Monday, August 20th, 2012
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In our retirement community…

Everyone is 55 years of age, or older.  Some people are a LOT older than that, and they have some special needs, whether they know it or not.  Here’s what we have observed about older people, and why they may be extra vulnerable in an emergency.

Complacency

Some of our neighbors have family close by, with children and grandchildren showing up regularly to celebrate holidays.  These families also help mom or dad make decisions about medical care, or hire maintenance contractors or take their parents’ car to be tuned-up from time to time. 

These older folks are lucky.  But they may also be used to handing off responsibility to someone else.  In an emergency, no one will be there to help make decisions!

 

Senior Couple

Seniors at a disadvantage in an emergency?

If you are older, are you ready to make life-and-death decisions for yourself?

If your parents are older,
are THEY ready to make life-and-death decisions for themselves?

A Sense of Entitlement

Living as we do near a fire station, and in a community where police services are excellent, we get to know our first responders by first name!  We see them frequently, and know they are great folks.  Naturally, we expect friendly and competent service to be available all the time.

In a big emergency, though, they tell us we will fall off the list so fast our heads will spin!  Schools, hospitals, jails, communications centers – all these will be much higher up on the list of priorities than a retirement community.

Have you fallen into the trap of expecting immediate response if you call 911?

Everyone, and particularly older people, needs to take a look at their needs and prepare for the most likely emergencies.  If you can take care of yourself, you can survive.  You may also even be able to assist others.  If you can’t take care of yourself, you become a problem for which there is no guaranteed solution. 

P.S.  We’re sharing this article in our community newsletter next month…

Just who IS responsible for your survival during and following a major disaster?

Sunday, March 18th, 2012
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We all tend to look to the government . . .

Not stopping for ME?!?

There is a tendency to look to the government at all levels for protection from calamities and disasters of all kinds.  We may complain about taxes, but we want the police and fire protections. This is not an unreasonable expectation . . .but within reason. No society can afford to provide 100% protection for all of its citizens against all manner of risks.

First job of police and fire after an earthquake is not to help. 

Following a major earthquake, for example, the first job of the police and fire is to survey – as best they can – their entire area of responsibility and establish priorities for search and rescue, fire suppression and restoration of order.

High on their list will be the civic command center, hospitals, schools, industries where fire and chemical contamination risks are highest, etc.

There are only so many fire trucks, ambulances and police cars available . . . and many roads may simply be impassable.  This survey activity may take hours — and during it, you may see police and fire trucks drive right by without stopping.

We are somewhere down the survey list, depending on the overall makeup of our communities.

Everyone must, therefore, take a certain amount of responsibility for their own well being. That means having enough food, water, medicines and clothing on hand to survive until a community’s infrastructure can be restored.

In the initial minutes and hours following a disaster it’s up to you.

The reality is that you are the best hope a trapped or injured neighbor has to survive in those early critical minutes following a major emergency . . . and they are YOUR best hope of survival if you (or other members of your work or family) are in need of immediate help. While most communities in the U.S. and many parts of the world protect their Good Samaritan citizens from being sued for trying to help people in need, the more training you have in basic light search & rescue techniques, first aid, etc., the more likely you are to be of genuine assistance and the less likely to make fatal mistakes. You need to think about this long and hard before you pass up the opportunity to participate in a survival plan for your neighborhood and/or work.

Our goal with this website is to remind our readers and neighbors about this responsibility.

Joe Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team