Category: CERT

New CERT Graduates!

new graduates of the Community Emergency Response Team course celebrate with their neighbors
They made it through!

When you write a book, you get the chance to include a dedication. Every one of the first books in our Neighborhood Disaster Survival Series is dedicated not to mothers or fathers or each other, but to our friends and colleagues at CERT, the Community Emergency Response Team training offered through FEMA and our city!

Twenty years ago CERT was the impetus that moved us from helping big enterprises with disaster recovery to helping improve emergency preparedness for neighborhoods.

Over the years, our own southern California neighborhood has benefitted from adding nearly 4 dozen CERT graduates from our city’s training program. We’ve also welcomed a few new neighbors who brought their training with them from other cities.

Of course, in any neighborhood, people come and go. In a senior community like ours the “going” may be more frequent that the “coming.” Whatever, even after the nearly total shutdown of our emergency group activities because of Covid, here in our small neighborhood we still count 21 active CERTs.

As of this month, our current neighborhood CERT total went up to 24!

Time to celebrate!

The images above show our three new “heroes” and the meeting that featured them. People were interested to hear how the training had gone. Here are some of the questions that came up:

  • “What did you like best?”
  • “What was the biggest surprise about the course?”
  • “Were you worried about anything before you started?”
  • “What was the hardest part?”
  • “Was it really free?”
  • “Why did you take the course in the first place?”
  • “Have you added any new gear to the stuff you got from the training?”

We use these questions whenever we get the chance. CERT graduates like to talk about their experiences – and folks considering the course want to hear about CERT “from the horse’s mouth.”

(No matter how much written material we provide, it’s the fact-to-face interaction that makes the difference!)

And although Joe and I took the training years ago, we too are interested because it’s changed. For example, while medical, fire suppression, and search & rescue are still key components of the course, a whole section on “Terrorism & Disaster Psychology” has been added since we took it.

In any case, as far as our neighborhood is concerned, the more CERT graduates we have among us, the safer and the smarter we feel.

How do we get more neighbors involved in emergency preparedness?

Here’s the way it has worked best for us.

First, we have kept our city CERT leader on speed dial. (Or speed email, whatever.)

Joe and I were in Class 3. A couple of years later, by the time we got to Class 7, our neighborhood graduate group had grown to a half dozen. (Our city is now on class 88, and has trained well over 2,000 people.)

The advantages of having a “core” neighborhood group are clear. Graduates share the same vocab.  They have learned the same basic info. Perhaps most important, they have been exposed to the “Incident Commander” concept. That is, if you are first on the scene, you step up to take charge. Being a leader comes from the CERT training . . . and it is essential.

The core group becomes the engine behind building a community group. And we’ve added Mandarin speakers to our core group!

Next, we focused our promotion activities on the value to individual community members, not just the benefits to the city.

Some CERT trainees finish the class and never join in any further neighborhood or community activities. That’s fine. Their families get the benefit.

Most CERT graduates, however, are enthusiastic about what they have learned. They  realize what an impact they could have in an emergency! These folks often express their commitment to “being of service” to the community, and CERT fits that mindset.

Core group members with a service mentality find it easy to work together to develop a plan, and programs, for their neighbors. We have counted on them year after year.  

Then we planned regular neighborhood activities around scheduled CERT classes.

We’ve used a number of ways to let people know about CERT. Just like we did last week, we take advantage of every chance we get to celebrate course graduates!

Leading up to that, though, takes repeated reminders, stories, and show-and-tells. And once we’ve welcomed new CERT graduates, we continue to involve them in these activities.

I just checked. In our Neighborhood Disaster Survival Guides, we share over 25 of the different activities we have developed to engage neighbors and meet a neighborhood’s particular needs and interests! (We’ve shared a lot more ideas via these Advisories, too. Look for “What are you interested in?” in the sidebar, click the down arrow, and choose “CERT.”)

We have been instrumental in helping build emergency preparedness groups for a variety of neighborhoods. Of course, every neighborhood is unique – but we believe CERT, as a foundation, works for nearly everyone.

These books are updated regularly. (We keep having to add new items to the “threats” list!) Find out more about the books in the series here, with links to get them at Amazon.

As long as our city is offering classes, we have a reason to talk about CERT, emergency preparedness and response. It is an ongoing effort.

What about those neighbors who may not take a CERT class but still want to be part of the team?

In our neighborhood we have busy neighbors who want to be a part of the preparedness activities but make it clear: “I don’t want to take the course but I will be here to help out when you need me.”

This is a problem.

When the emergency hits, these folks will have no idea of how to help and there will be no time for training!

So, we have used material from the CERT course as a framework on which to build a bare-bones custom neighborhood group with a place for everyone who wants to be a member. Interested neighbors agree to participate as volunteers in whatever category makes sense for them. We provide as much training and as many supplies as we can. For example, they get walkie-talkies and fluorescent emergency vests. (We don’t give official CERT gear to people who haven’t taken the full training.)

In addition, our team regularly offers “general education” for everyone on emergency preparedness. People may not want to be part of a group, but they seem to appreciate in-depth climate reports, suggestions for home safety, and hearing about new threats.

Whatever you can do to improve neighbors’ awareness of potential emergencies, and to get them to take steps to prepare, the safer you all will be.

CERT is the best foundation for effective community action that we have found.

Find out about CERT in your town or city!  Simply type into a browser [Your city CERT]. You can also head to the FEMA website for more information:

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Do you have some “old-timers” in your neighborhood with CERT credentials? Consider acknowledging them with an enamel CERT pin or perhaps a safety item with an embroidered CERT patch. You can find these, along with other CERT gear, at my friend Susan’s site:

Paradise was a Test for Emergency Responders. Many failed.

Could you survive a wildfire like this?

Since you’re a reader here at Emergency Plan Guide, I’m sure you remember the fire season of 2018: the “deadliest and most destructive wildfire season on record in California.” You may even remember some of the statistics: nearly 8 thousand separate fires, nearly 2 million acres burned. And 100 people confirmed dead – with a possible 50 more never found.

But so much has gone on since then that you may have forgotten about the single worst fire of that worst year. The Camp Fire roared through the Northern California town of Paradise on November 8, in one day destroying 95% of homes and businesses and leaving 85 dead in its wake. Paradise was a test for Emergency Responders. And many failed.

Yes, you may have forgotten. But if you read the book I just finished, you will NEVER forget Paradise.

“Paradise: One Town’s Struggle to Survive an American Wildfire”
by Lizzie Johnson

How to describe this book’s impact on me? It was so compelling I read all day the day I got it. So intense I couldn’t sleep that night. Some images remain in my mind: walls of flame 200 feet high; children only vaguely visible in a school bus filling with smoke; propane tanks exploding like bombs; floating embers as big as dinner plates . . .as big as dinner plates!

People who were heroes. And people who made bad decisions. . . a lot of bad decisions.

Paradise is a must-read for people who can’t afford to make bad emergency management decisions. Here are some questions to identify who those people are and force them to think about the decisions they might make under similar circumstances.

Are you one of the people who could be tested by disaster?

Do you live at the wildland-urban interface?

There are more of you every year, and you are a target. At Emergency Plan Guide we’ve written more than once about the dangers of wildfire, and how to be smart about defending your property from it. We’ve even written about new technology for the professionals who fight these fires. But technology only gives you more options. Judgment is still the real difference between success and failure. And in a case like Paradise, between life and death.

As I write this, over half the states of the U.S. are in drought. There’s no longer such a thing as “fire season.” Rather, it’s fires year-round.

Everyone at the wildland-interface needs to know how to build, how to defend, how to evacuate when fire threatens. As you read how people struggled in Paradise, your own choices may become clearer.

Do you deal with particular sub-sets of your community, such as seniors? Children? People with disabilities?

Johnson’s research included digging deeply into the living conditions and also the mindset of the people who lived and worked in Paradise. You get to know these folks and their community. It was like many others. But it had some unique characteristics that played into the choices emergency professionals made.

One was a higher-than-average population of older people – 25% compared to the American average of around 15%. This meant more people in Paradise had health and mental limitations, and physical disabilities. When it came to evacuation . . .

  • They didn’t know the fire was coming. Few had signed up to receive emergency alerts. They were busy with life, not watching the news.
  • In Paradise and even here in my community, older people have lived through other disasters in their lives. They tend to figure they will get through this one, too. In fact, many simply refuse to consider evacuation.

Seniors stand to fail the test of responding to emergencies more often than other groups. What about the seniors in your life?

Are you connected to a health-care facility?

Some of the most powerful stories in Johnson’s book describe what happens as clinics and hospitals are threatened and overrun by the fire. Talk about heroes! But talk about impossible situations: not enough wheelchairs, much less ambulances. Patients too large or too ill to walk or even fit into a car. Ultimately, no power.

How confident are you in your facility’s evacuation and overall emergency response plans? Or in the plans of the facilities where you have family members?

City leaders, including professional emergency managers, struggle to balance politics with safety. In Paradise, they lost.

Paradise describes a history of town development, where decisions were made by various councils about paving, widening, and narrowing streets. About water supply. Code enforcement. Hiring. Economic considerations often won out over safety. And everything came into play during the fire.

One of the most difficult decisions was when and how to call for evacuation. For me, reading the details of those decisions was agonizing.

If you are a professional emergency manager, a First Responder, or simply a concerned citizen, you’ll find yourself wanting to make a checklist of things to look into for your own community. I did. My list contains over 35 items.

First Responders showed up. But things didn’t work as planned.

Johnson describes helicopter pilots unable to fly because violent downdrafts threatened to smash them into the mountainsides. Police officers directed traffic without understanding where they were sending people. Communications between different departments didn’t always work.

Some Incident Commanders were up to the job. Others weren’t sure, and waffled.

Paradise can be a mini-study in how mutual aid works – and sometimes doesn’t.

And last. But perhaps first in importance: what can you expect from your utilities?

The Camp Fire was determined to have been caused by PG&E, the largest utility not only in California but in the nation. PG&E pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter, admitting that a spark from a 91-year-old transmission line started the fire. (Interestingly, the utility had previously warned that power might be shut off. Later, though, they claimed that conditions that day did not meet the company’s criteria for emergency shut-off.)

Does your utility do “Safety Shut-offs?” Under what conditions? What do you know about the history, maintenance and current condition of your utility’s grid? What plans do they have for back-up in an emergency? The same questions apply for your communications providers.  

These are only some of the urgent questions that filled my mind as I followed the increasingly desperate stories of individual Paradise residents. As each profile developed, I kept wondering – “Is THIS person going to end up being one of the 85 dead?”

I urge you to read Paradise yourself, as a citizen, community leader, or emergency response professional. You will be captured and inspired by Lizzie Johnson’s moving narrative. You will also be tested as to your own level of preparedness and readiness to respond. Please don’t wait.

Click on the image to order now from Amazon.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Buy Batteries On Sale


Is getting batteries “on sale” a good idea?


Check out this article before you buy! Price isn’t the only factor. In the world of batteries, it seems you get what you pay for, and you’d better know in advance just what you need.

Some Background on Batteries (Skim if you already know all this!)

How batteries work

Batteries use a chemical reaction to do work. Alkaline batteries, the AA, C and D batteries we all know, typically depend on zinc interacting with manganese (through an alkaline electrolyte solution) to produce electricity.

Other batteries use different chemistries to achieve a higher “energy density” so they will last longer and perform better. Some of them: nickelcadmium (NiCd), nickelzinc (NiZn), nickel metal hydride (NiMH), and lithium (Li-ion),

In a regular alkaline battery, the reaction ultimately consumes the chemicals (leaving behind hydrogen gas as a “waste” product) and the battery dies.

When to recharge

While an alkaline battery can be recharged, the process is inefficient and dangerous because of the hydrogen gas buildup. Recharging non-rechargeable batteries can result in a leak or even an explosion.

Rechargeable batteries are designed differently. First, they use specific chemicals (most popular seems to be Lithium Ion, which is being used in Tesla batteries) that can undergo a “reverse chemical reaction” easily and efficiently. They contain a catalyst to keep hydrogen gas from forming. They have vents to prevent pressure from building up during recharging.

As you might expect, rechargeable batteries are more expensive because you have to buy that extra “charger.” However, studies suggest that you will save money over time using rechargeables, but they need electricity to work, so IN AN EMERGENCY SITUATION you will probably want to have regular disposable batteries on hand, too.

Getting the most out of batteries

No matter where they are stored, all batteries will ultimately die. Eventually, the steel casing will corrode and rust and leak. (Heat like we’ve had over the past several weeks can speed up the deterioration!)

Still, there are things you can do to preserve the life of your device batteries.

  • Don’t attempt to recharge non-rechargeable batteries.
  • Remove batteries from a device that you won’t be using for a while.
  • Replace all the batteries in a device at the same time. (Clean the contacts with a cloth before you install the new batteries).
  • Don’t mix different kinds of batteries in the same device. Use the same manufacturer, same type, same manufacture date.
  • Store batteries in a cool, dry place. (Your car, in the summer heat, is not so good for preserving the life of whatever battery-operated device you store in there.)
  • Don’t mix loose batteries with metal objects – like in your pocket with change. They can short-circuit and burn or explode!

Oh, and that story about storing batteries in the refrigerator? Keep batteries cool, but there’s no need to refrigerate modern batteries.

My phone’s my most important survival tool! What’s the best solution for it?

The battery already in your phone or computer may have to be replaced as some point. If so, you’ll probably have to get whatever the manufacturer requires.

But, you’ll be recharging that device many times before you have to get a new battery! In an emergency, of course, electrical power for recharging may be out or you may be nowhere near a wall socket. One back-up option is a device that holds an extra charge, just ready for you to plug in to when you need it.

So let’s look at portable chargers or Power Banks.

Power Bank with Flashlight
My Power Bank has a flashlight, too.

If your goal is to extend the life of your electronic devices, consider a Power Bank,  otherwise known as a “mobile power supply,” mobile battery, external battery, spare battery, charging stick, or portable charger. These devices can keep you operating for days at a time!

If your time is worth anything, a power bank will be an inexpensive boost to your productivity and, in an emergency, to your peace of mind.

Power Banks are sized from something similar to a small flashlight to a device that resembles a small external storage drive. They all fit in a palm, pocket or purse, but may be a bit heavy to carry around all day. (Check the weight.)

As you compare them, look for:

  • Capacity (measured in mAh, or milliampere hours). The higher the mAh, the more stored power.

    IS THE POWER BANK BIG ENOUGH TO DO THE JOB?  Some negative reviews come from people who expect a small battery to recharge a much larger device. Doesn’t work!

    You want enough juice to reload your phone or tablet completely, at least once and preferably more often than that! For example, one power bank model declares its 15,000 mAh are able to charge an iPhone 6 more than 5 times. To know how much capacity you need, get the specs on your device from the box it came in, or search online for “technical specs.”
  • Output (measured in V, or volts). Generally, you want the power bank output to be the same as the input to your device. For example, your phone and Bluetooth headset probably each have 5V input.
  • How many ports? Some of the chargers can “feed” as many as 4 devices at the same time. (You’ll need the right cord for each device.)
  • What security against short circuits, over-charging or over heating?

The chart below will gives you a quick idea of features, options and prices. These models range from $20 – well over $100. Click on the image to go directly to more details on Amazon.


10,000 mAh. Two different charging speeds. Slim and lightweight.

20,000 mAh. Charge multiple devices at once.

About the size of a small book. LED lights show status. Charge laptop 2 1/2 times, phone 11+ times.

What are the best batteries for our other emergency devices?

Disposable batteries

Understanding all that basic information listed above, we have tested disposable batteriesEnergizer, Duracell and Kirkland (Costco brand) — multiple times for our emergency radios. These radios are used once a month for our Emergency Response Team drill, and then very lightly, so we don’t go through the batteries quickly at all. We do automatically replace them regularly (usually twice a year at the time change.)

Re results of our testing? There doesn’t seem to be too much difference in manufacturers, although our current favorite is the Duracell Coppertop with Duralock.   You can get what you need at your local hardware or big box store, or add them to an Amazon order. Some packages have both AA and AAA sizes in one.

Rechargeable batteries

For multi-use devices, like our emergency radios, we prefer rechargeable batteries. We’ve found that rechargeables are often specified BY NAME by the manufacturer of the product. If specified, use ‘em. Other raters for rechargeables have consistently come up with Eneloop NiMH. These are made by Panasonic, and come in AAA and AA sizes.

Panasonic says these can be recharged 2,100 times!  For that reason alone I would try them!

Solar chargers

Finally, don’t overlook the small solar devices designed to recharge your phone and/or other devices. Some emergency radios have small solar panels, and can recharge a phone.

There are also small, handy solar panels you can attach to your backpack and recharge while you go! They cost somewhere between $20 and $40. Here’s an example – click on the picture to get full details.

Whew, this is a lot of info, but given the fact that we all seem to invest in batteries on a consistent basis, it’s worth it to get the right battery for the job. Oh, and buying on sale? A good idea if you know what you’re buying.

But buying just on price alone makes no sense.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

If you’re part of a Neighborhood Emergency Response group, you’ll need a budget for batteries for your walkie-talkies. Here’s an article with some ideas about financing your group’s efforts.

Emergency Preparedness Quiz for Experts


Ready for Rain

OK, so you have been working for a while on being prepared for disasters. You’ve made it this far, and think you’re in pretty good shape, ready for whatever rain may fall! 

Maybe you even qualify as an expert?!

Last year Joe and I took an emergency preparedness quiz at a meeting sponsored by the Great American Shake-out. Sure enough, although we’ve been “Activists” for years, we were missing several key items!

That inspired me to put this quiz together for all the Emergency Plan Guide readers. (I’ve updated it for 2020, too.) The questions were gathered from a variety of sources. See how well you do! Score yourself at the end!

Emergency Preparedness Quiz

1-Is your house ready to take a hit from a disaster? Check if YES.

  • No heavy/dangerous items over the bed, couch or desk (or wherever you spend a lot of time).
  • Bookcases, TV, speakers, computers, printers, mirrors — bolted to table or to wall. Need a stud finder to finish this job?
  • Water heater and other appliances secured.
  • Outside of home squared away to protect against sudden fire (trash cleared away) or wind.
  • Home adequately insured for standard risks also local risks (flood, earthquake, etc.).

2-Does your family know how to respond to a natural or weather-related disaster? Check if YES.

  • Everybody knows and has practiced: Drop-Cover-Hold On (earthquake), Drop-Roll (fire). Grandma, too.
  • Family members know and have practiced 2 ways to get out of house: doors, windows, second floor. Can you get down the escape ladder?
  • Everyone knows where fire extinguishers are, and how to use them. How many fire extinguishers do you need, anyway? And are they all workable?
  • Adults know where water and gas shut-offs are, and when to shut them off. Tools attached near shut-off valves.
  • You have a back-up plan for pets if you’re not home. Decal on front door or window alerts emergency workers that you have a pet.
  • Everyone in the family has memorized out-of-town contact phone number.
  • Everyone who has a phone has a battery back-up (Power bank), knows how and to whom to text.

3-Are survival kits (72-hour kits) packed and ready to go?

  • Do all evacuation and survival kits have masks so you can operate within COVID guidelines?
  • A survival kit in the house for every family member, customized to size, skill, medical needs, etc.?
  • A kit for every pet?
  • A kit in each car?
  • A kit at work for every worker?

4-What about handling the immediate aftermath of a disaster?

  • Every room has emergency lighting – lantern and/or flashlight.
  • All first aid kits are fully stocked with up-to-date items.
  • We have at least one emergency radio (solar, hand crank, battery) tuned to local emergency station, with extra batteries.
  • Everyone has sturdy shoes for safely getting around, clothing/gloves to protect against cold or broken items. Pets have protective booties/jackets, too.
  • Supply of warm clothing, blankets.
  • Everyone knows ways to report in that they’re OK.

5-Are you prepared at work for the immediate aftermath of a disaster?

  • Every room has emergency lighting – lantern and/or flashlight.
  • First aid kits are fully stocked with up-to-date items.
  • Emergency radio tuned to local emergency station, with extra batteries.
  • Everyone has sturdy shoes for safely managing stairs, getting out. (Particularly important for female employees whose footwear may be stylish but impractical. Stash an extra pair of tennis shoes in the bottom drawer of the desk.)
  • Partners check on each other’s situation. People with disabilities have designated partners who know how to help them evacuate.
  • People responsible for shut-down or evacuation procedures step into action.
  • Everyone knows how to report in assuming phones are out.

6-How about an extended recovery at home after a disaster?

  • Supply of food that doesn’t need cooking. Can-opener. Utensils.
  • If camp stove, supply of food that uses hot water or heating. Fuel for stove. Fire igniter. Pot. (Have you practiced setting up and starting the stove? A challenge under the best of conditions!)
  • Condiments: salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard, chilies, soy sauce, sugar, honey, other.
  • Water supply. Clean water supplies, a way to filter and/or disinfect other water.
  • Pet’s food, water and hygiene supplies.
  • Personal hygiene supplies: temporary toilet, toilet paper, wipes, paper towels, Clorox. Trash bags.
  • Personal supplies: lotion, bug repellent, sun screen, soap, sanitary supplies, condoms, deodorant, toothpaste, etc.
  • Medicines and prescriptions for at least 2 weeks.
  • Clothing for cold, rain; ponchos, umbrellas.
  • Tools appropriate for making repairs: saw, hammer, nails, tape, plastic sheets, tarp, crow bar, ax, shovel, emergency lighting.
  • If someone can handle them and manage fuel: generator, chain saw.
  • Emergency two-way communications: walkie-talkies, ham radios.
  • Entertainment: books, games, cards, paper and pens.

(When it comes to extended recovery at work, that’s another quiz. It will be based on the type of work place, key functions of the business, number of employees, etc. Emergency Preparedness for Small Business can give you nearly all the guidance you’ll need to answer THAT quiz!)

7-And here’s a bonus emergency preparedness quiz item:

  • I’ve completed CERT training. (I know, CERT training is being postponed until we can get back to meeting face to face. But at least, you can put it on your to-do list!)

And your score on this Emergency Preparedness Quiz?

There are 41 questions in this quiz, plus the bonus. They don’t have equal importance, so there’s no real way to rate yourself based on the number of boxes you checked off.  Still, just in reading the quiz you should have a FEEL for whether you are:

  • Rookie – 10-15 check marks: A good start but still have a ways to go
  • Solid – 15-30 check marks: Comfortable with your progress; won’t feel (too) guilty if something happens
  • Expert – Anything above 30, plus the bonus! Heck, you should be teaching this stuff!

If you’re not actively “teaching this stuff,” you can use this emergency preparedness quiz to help yourself and other people you care about get started on their own preparations.

How to get started?

Start slowly — but get started!

Did some of these items jump out at you as being really important?

Start with just one or two. Work on a new one every week.

If you are part of a neighborhood group, maybe pick a couple of items to work on every month. (Our new Mini-Series was designed PERFECTLY for groups! Schedule one topic per week or per month, get people together — in person or via zoom — to discuss and share.)

Every small preparedness action you take will add to your family’s and your community’s resilience. Since your neighbors are most likely to be the people who end up rescuing you in a disaster, this step-by-step method has a double pay-off!

Let us know how it goes, and what YOU would add to the quiz to make it even more useful. We are all in this together!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team


Emergency Preparedness for Meeting Planners

Emergency preparedness for meeting planners
This your meeting? Are you ready — for food poisoning, an accident, fire?

It’s a rare business that doesn’t host a meeting once in a while. While businesses are shut down as a result of the pandemic, this list may not apply! But as soon as you get back to face-to-face meetings, it will. So hang on to it!

Your meeting might be for marketing or educational purposes, or maybe to celebrate a holiday or having reached a company milestone.

Whatever the purpose, if you are the meeting planner, you have a long to-do list to be sure everything goes as planned. Even the simplest meeting needs decisions made about date and time, venue, food, invitations, theme and decorations, sign-in procedures, advertising and publicity, entertainment, audio-visual, vendors, etc.  

Our question for today:

Does your meeting to-do list include planning for emergencies?

If you’ve been reading here for a while, you know that we are constantly on the lookout for good emergency preparedness resources. And we look not just for ideas for family planning, but also for small business and, in particular, for neighborhood teams.

This Advisory will be useful for all three groups. But it is particularly vital for businesses, because . . .

If something goes badly wrong at your business meeting, and you could have prepared for it, you will be blamed. And you may be sued.

Please note: we are not attorneys, and this Advisory is not meant to give legal advice. Please consult with qualified professionals for detailed recommendations for your business and your meeting.

As you get ready to meet with those professionals, being ready with questions will save time and money. Here are some questions to start with.

1 – Is there a law that we must have a disaster preparedness plan for every meeting?

At Emergency Plan Guide we have never found a legal requirement on emergency preparedness for meeting planners. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t one!  Your professional advisers may have found it. Ask.

But at the same time we have read enough horror stories to know that people sue no matter what

They may claim that you should have let them know in advance that it was a dangerous neighborhood, that the venue was open to access from outside, that there was no internet security, that a storm was threatened, that medical aid was not immediately available, etc., etc. They will claim you were negligent.

2 – How do we protect ourselves if there is no clear-cut law?

Recent well-known lawsuits seem to have revolved around the legal concept of “Duty of Care.” The Legal Dictionary at defines Duty of Care this way: “a requirement that a person act toward others and the public with the watchfulness, attention, caution and prudence that a reasonable person in the circumstances would use. “

There’s a second legal term we also see connected with this same topic: “Standard of Care.” It is closely tied to “Duty of Care.” 

Basically, this is the “standard” that a reasonable person with the same qualifications would follow in a similar circumstance. As you might imagine, a professional would have a higher standard than a non-professional.

Here’s the challenge. adds:  “The problem is that the “standard” is often a subjective issue upon which reasonable people can differ.”

Not too helpful! 

Still, we already know that it just makes sense to prepare for emergencies to the best level you can.

3 – So what does a reasonable person do when planning a meeting?

These are my recommendations. They are similar to preparing for emergencies in your own home or business.

I see these as basic steps:

  • Evaluate your OWN level of preparedness. Who from your company will be there, what skills do they have, how ready will they be to respond to an emergency? What gaps do you find?
  • Identify risks for this particular event: geographic location and specific room or building, threats from weather and/or people (attendees or outsiders), security issues, availability of emergency medical personnel, cyber-security policies, firearms policies, alcohol policies, etc.
  • For each risk, confer with your business partners and then decide on who will respond and how. Make it clear who is responsible for what. Will any of the partners need to budget for additional personnel or equipment? List whom to call and all names and numbers. Decide who will interact with the news media or other officials, etc.
  • Confirm appropriate insurance coverages, yours and your meeting business partners.  
  • Write down and update your plan. Document your planning meetings. Share your decisions as appropriate in your marketing materials, since attendees deserve to know you have considered their safety in your planning. Document how everything went at the meeting.

This written document shows that you were attentive, prudent and thorough. This can be your very best protection against claims of negligence.

More resources on emergency preparedness for meeting planners

A while ago I attended a 2-hour training session sponsored by Meetings Today. The title was: Risk Management – Best Practices for Meetings and Events. The presenter, Brenda Rivers, also put out a 30-minute podcast on the Duty of Care. You may be able to find the podcast here:

Meetings Today has also published a comprehensive template for meeting planners. If you have any responsibility for planning meetings, you may wish to download it for future reference. Here’s the link:

If you consider yourself to be a professional meeting planner, or just an enthusiastic meeting planner, please find out more about this topic!

Best of luck,

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Joe and I consider ourselves “enthusiastic meeting planners.”  Together, we have been responsible for literally hundreds of meetings for professional associations, Rotary International, neighborhood outreach for energy efficiency, and, of course, our local emergency response group. You can find one of our neighborhood group meeting planning Advisories here, recently updated.

And if you’re serious about putting on a successful meeting, check out this book from Alex Genadinik. There are a number of books available about planning events, of course, including those on starting a business as an event planner. I recommend this one because of Genadinik’s marketing emphasis.

Drones for Emergency Response Teams


The market for drones for emergency response teams continues to expand.

Drone for emergency response team

Updated 5-2020

We started reporting on drones about 5 years ago. At that time, drones were mostly high-tech toys. Two years ago we updated our reporting, and today it’s time for another update because . . .

Drones for emergency response teams are becoming more common. 

Before you start looking at drones for use by your neighborhood emergency response team, however, it’s a good idea to listen to the advice I got from an excellent training film put on by the Pacific Northwest Economic Region  Center for Regional Disaster Resilience. Here’s the link to the video:  One of the speakers said: “Before you decide on a project, become the local expert and understand how to collect and manage data. ” By the time you’ve done that, you’ll know what equipment you need and the rules you’ll need to follow.

The video mentioned above was by and for a governmental agency. You may not be part of a governmental agency; you may be a hobbyist. But you need to know all the rules!  Here they are as of 2020 . .

Rules for hobbyists, commercial and non-governmental use of UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) . . .are changing!

You need a pilot certificate.

If you’re operating your drone as a hobbyist, that means hobbyist. You’re not operating as a service, or planning to be paid for your services, or to sell your photos, etc. In the past, you didn’t need a certificate but it looks as though you WILL need one soon if not already!

Getting a Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA requires that you pass a test as well as meet other requirements. Here’s a link to find out more:

Register Your Drone.

Whether being flown by a hobbyist or for another reason, any UA must be registered. If it weighs less than .55 lbs you can register it online; otherwise, go to the FAA website to get started registering it on paper.  Here’s the link:  

A drone weighing MORE than 55 lbs. falls into another category altogether. (That 55 lbs. includes any cargo that the drone is carrying.)

Pilot Your Drone Safely.

Even though rules change, the main thrust for hobbyists and commercial operators is always on safety. You can check in on a regular basis to monitor any changes, at

Here’s a summary of the current rules:

  • Drones must remain in visual line of sight of the pilot or a sighter — no first-person-view cameras. (This means no flying by what the camera shows as opposed to what you actually see from where you are standing.) You can only fly one line-of-sight vehicle at a time. Maximum distance from pilot is 3 miles.
  • Maximum speed is 100 mph and maximum altitude is 400 feet.
  • Pilots must be at least 16 years old and hold the “remote pilot airman certificate,” mentioned above.
  • Operation is only allowed during daylight hours or twilight with appropriate lighting.
  • Pilots must avoid flying over cars, populated areas or over specific people not involved in the operation.
  • You must understand airspace zones and respect them. Manned aircraft always have the right of way.
  • You must be aware of no-fly zones. (The best drones have “no-fly” zones built into their software.)
  • The big issue, of course, is privacy. While there don’t seem to be clear cut rules regarding privacy, you’ve got to remember that there is a concept called Expectation of Privacy. This usually translates into giving people a warning if you’re going to be flying, not capturing “private” footage if you don’t need to, and deleting it if you’re asked to. If you’re part of a group, you would do well to have a privacy policy to protect your members. Here’s a reference that might be helpful:

Please note — again! – rules keep changing! Some changes have been promised and awaited but are now on hold as a result of the Coronavirus. Get the rules at the FAA.

Using Your Drone as an Emergency Response Tool

While not commercial, and yet not recreational, here are some uses your team might be considering. Before you actually decide to implement any, be sure your use is legal.

  • Use a drone to provide overhead lighting when searching an area at night
  • Inspect upper levels of buildings or structures (in industrial or high-rise residential areas)
  • Film damaged areas or obstructions following a disaster (as long as you don’t interfere with First Responders)
  • Identify “hot spots” after a fire (using infrared technology)
  • Map area covered by the CERT team to segment into manageable areas
  • Find a missing person
  • Search areas for survivors
  • Identify pathways for access or escape or to to safer positions
  • Drop markers to designate specific damages or routes to follow
  • Monitor teams during training exercises with filmed records for group critique
  • Transfer supplies, first aid items, batteries, replacement radios, etc.
  • Transport high value items over a distance, reducing the need for multiples of expensive equipment (e.g., gas sniffer)

You can probably come up with many more.

Challenges for Emergency Teams

1-Rules may limit your emergency response team’s use.

When you look at even this short list of uses, you will see that a number of these uses would be against current rules! Let’s look again . . .

  • Can’t fly at night.
  • Can’t let drone out of your sight.
  • Can’t fly higher than 400 feet.
  • Can’t fly over people.

From our standpoint as emergency responders, these restrictions limit the use of the technology. In a serious situation the safety of our neighbors in the community is more important that the actual altitude of the drone looking for them!

You may request a waiver of some of these restrictions if you can show you can conduct your operations safely. And we have confidence that some of these restrictions may be lifted or clarified, so we are not letting them stop our analysis.

2-Battery life may limit your team’s use.

Most drones have a flying time of only around 20-25 minutes. As technology improves, that will improve. To get a couple minutes more of flight can cost a couple hundred more dollars in purchase price. No matter which model you get, plan on getting at least 3 or 4 extra batteries right along with the machine so you can rapidly put the machine back in the air.

3-Set up in advance to be able to share your images and videos.

Clearly, the emergency planning and response ideas above would generate information you’d want to share with the rest of your team or with First Responders! There are several options available – the obvious one being sending footage to YouTube or Vimeo.

However, the FAA may label your video as “commercial use” if it appears with an ad on it, whether or not you wanted it!  (Again, in an emergency, I’d probably not worry about that. But be aware . . .) Other sharing options include apps provided by Facebook, Dropbox and certain drone manufacturers.

Moreover, if you share any photos, issues of privacy raise their head. Understand how you will manage your data to maintain privacy. Review the resource above in the long list of bullet points.

If you goal is to share your work, find out more before purchasing.

OK, with all this in mind,

Which drone is best for our Neighborhood Response Team?

In our community, we already have some guys who race electric cars. And there are a couple who build and fly model airplanes. The skills they bring to the table will be valuable – but not all of them are on our emergency response team, of course.

So, as we shop for a drone, we have to add “ease of set-up” and “easy to fly” to our shopping list.

Here’s the whole shopping list so far:

  • Big enough to fly outside, in somewhat inclement weather (Cheap toys won’t work.)
  • Strong enough to carry something to a designated location
  • The best battery life we can get for the price
  • Proven performance (not bleeding edge technology)
  • Reasonable image and video quality, though not necessarily the highest
  • Easy to set up and start flying
  • Compatible with variety of hand-held mobile devices

We’ve done a lot of comparing of different machines to get to this point! I hope the data above will be helpful to you in your own search.

See our top choices for drones in Part Two of Drones for Emergency Response Teams.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S.  I found these important additions. Become an expert before you buy or fly!

  • “Report to the FAA within 10 days of any operation that results in at least serious injury, loss of consciousness, or property damage of at least $500.”
  • “Failure to register an unmanned aircraft that is required to be registered may result in regulatory and criminal penalties. The FAA may assess civil penalties up to $27,500. Criminal penalties include fines of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years.”

B.Y.O.E. = A special community meeting on fire extinguishers


I was running late – to my own community meeting!

But we’d done some good planning, and by the time I got to the community room, a handful of volunteers were already digging into the oh-so-carefully-packed box of supplies. Name tags went out onto one table along with colored pens; handouts went onto another.  Two people were pinning photos from past events all across the back of the room. And refreshments had magically appeared on a table in the corner. (“Make people walk past the photo display to get to the cookies.”)

I saw immediately that our guest speakers had arrived before me, too!

But my back-up host had directed them to the electrical set-up, the microphone and projector were humming, and as neighbors started arriving, fire extinguishers in hand, everyone was standing about just casually chatting!

What a relief!  All I had to do was grab that microphone, take a deep breath, and gather my thoughts for the introductions! Here I am, a few minutes later, double-teaming with our fire captain.

“Bring your extinguisher, wear your Team vest . . .”

What was behind this special community meeting on fire extinguishers?

Pretty simple. We’ve had two fires recently in our neighborhood. In one, the whole house was engaged before the fire department arrived. (No person injured, but two pets died.)  In the other, smoke filled the kitchen but an observant neighbor noticed, grabbed a fire extinguisher, ran across the street and stopped the fire before any real damage was done.

The obvious lesson:

“If you can catch a fire right away, and you use the right equipment, you can put it out yourself.”

After the most recent fire, we took a poll of neighbors.

  1. “Do you have a fire extinguisher?”
  2. “Are you confident you could put out a fire in your house with your extinguisher?”
  3. “Have you ever even USED an extinguisher?”

Too many “no” answers! 

So we contacted our local fire department for help.

Not only were they willing to come do a special community meeting on home fire extinguishers, but they offered a magnificent surprise – a chance for us to actually practice putting out a fire.

But not a real fire.

We had the chance to train using a laser-driven fire extinguisher simulator!

First, we went over the basics of fire extinguishers.

In fact, we had invited everyone to BYOE — BRING YOUR OWN EXTINGUISHER – and it made a big difference! 

Many people had never even taken their extinguishers out of the box! Hardly any knew what sort of fire their extinguisher was good for. And I don’t think any had searched out the date of manufacture.

Imagine if you will a room full of people, many clutching red and white fire extinguishers in their laps, as our fire captain went over the basics using a power point presentation. There were MANY interruptions, much squinting to read the fine print, and MANY questions before it was over. (Remember, this meeting took place in a senior retirement community.)

  • Classifications tell you what kind of fire this extinguisher will put out – A, B, C, D and K.  In our group, nearly all were A, B, C.
  • What’s actually INSIDE the extinguisher? Again, for our audience, probably dry chemical that comes out as a powder to smother the fire.
  • How long is the extinguisher good for? “Check the date.” (This became an embarrassment and pretty humorous as people found the dates and called them out. The oldest extinguisher in the room dated to . . . 1987!)  The recommendation from our fire department – “Check ‘em often and replace after 5 years to be sure it will work when you need it.”
  • Where and how to store it? (Designated place, clearly visible. Turn it upside down and hit it with your hand to loosen the powder.)
  • Other comments – Only attempt to put out a fire you can control. Have an escape route. Call 911. and many more . . .

Then it was time for the SIMULATOR training!

Step back, you’re a little too close.

The head of our local CERT training stepped up to demonstrate the equipment. The digital “flame” on the screen was very bright, very realistic! The green dot from the laser was easily visible.

Before she was completely finished, people were already lining up to try it! (What a relief. As meeting planner you just never know what kind of reaction you’ll get!)

PASS – not so easy to remember when you have an extinguisher in your hands and the clock is ticking.

Our fire captain had gone through the steps to extinguish a fire.

And our CERT trainer had gone over them again, demonstrating two or three times just how the equipment works.

Still, when people came up to try, sometimes they forgot! They dropped the pin. The extinguisher was quite heavy and some couldn’t hold it and squeeze at the same time. A couple squeezed before they aimed!

Everyone was terribly engaged. Some were anxious. All were watching VERY closely.

Can she do it?
Too heavy? Hold it between your knees.

More than half the people in the audience tried the simulator. And everyone succeeded in putting out their fire. (A few did need a couple of tries.)

More important, as our CERT trainer observed, every one walked away with new-found confidence.

As the community meeting on fire extinguishers broke up, several people told me they wanted to learn more about our city’s CERT training and others wanted to join our local neighborhood response team. (We have no requirement for CERT training.)

As we gathered up all the stray handouts and took down the displays, we were very satisfied at the outcome.

Gotta love volunteers who stay to help tear down.

Could any meeting be more successful?!

Why yes, because that very evening I got several thank-you emails with many positive comments.

At 9 a.m. the following day our office manager wanted copies of anything that was left over “because people have already been coming in asking about it.” A bystander in the office volunteered, “I’m going to buy a new extinguisher for myself, and two for my daughter.”

Then the manager added, “I have never seen people come out of a meeting with so much excitement. They were talking and waving.  They were laughing. They were energized!

Fire extinguisher Simulator LED screen
The Bullex Digital Fire Simulator uses LEDs to create a “fire,” and the special fire extinguisher (same size and weight as regular one) “puts the fire out” using a laser beam.

I think you can agree, somewhere along the line this training will pay off. I hope you can add a similar meeting to YOUR group’s schedule!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. I’ll be adding this to my next collection of published Meeting Ideas! Let me know if you want to be on the pre-publication list!

Top Survival Resources: Five Popular Stories and Subjects

Top Survival Trends

After 20 years of training and writing about disaster preparedness, and with well over 500 articles now under my belt, I discover that some topics keep coming up again and again – in the news media, in questions people ask, and on the various internet sites and in specialty magazines that report on “survival trends.” Thanks to Google Analytics, we can also track which articles are most often viewed on our site, too. Here are our top survival resources!

Here are the 5 most popular topics on our site, with links that will take you immediately to more information.

Are you in the mainstream? Are these among YOUR favorite subjects? Check them out!

1. Emergency Radios and Radio Communications

If there is one topic that stands out, this is it.  In fact, radios and radio communications are twice as popular as anything else we report on!

A radio for your personal survival kit.

Are you ready to buy an emergency radio for yourself or a family member?  Check out our Updated Reviews of Emergency Radios with comments about solar, hand-crank, etc. We’ve added new info about some nifty, palm-sized radios that fit perfectly in a pack, glove box, etc. Most of the radios we discuss are found on Amazon, where prices are as good as they get, and buyer comments are very helpful in selecting the best fit for your needs.

Two-way radio communications for groups.

Interested in how to use walkie-talkie radios effectively for your group, whether it’s your family or a neighborhood response team? Then you need a way to not only listen, but also to speak.

We have used many different models, and review walkie-talkies here. also has a number of Advisories on walkie-talkie use:

If you are serious about building a neighborhood group, each of the books in our Survival Series has a complete discussion and a diagram showing one way to use radio communications, how to assign channels for your different divisions and specialty teams, etc.

 2. Emergency/Survival Kits

We know that some people simply don’t have time to actually build their own kit, so we start with a review of Popular Ready-Made Kits to be found on Amazon.  The purpose of the review is not to recommend any one kit in particular, but to highlight different things to look for as you shop. (Again, please be aware that if you buy something from Amazon through one of our links, we may receive a commission from Amazon. The commission does not influence the price you pay.)

Because every person and family is unique, we recommend strongly that you build your own basic kit, and we have written a booklet to guide you through the various decisions that need to be made.  Once you have the basic kit, add items that fit your climate, your skill and your interest level.

We have also discovered that most people continue to improve their kit by adding specialty items. Some of the most interesting additions:

 3. Special Preparations for City Dwellers

Much of the “prepper” literature deals with developing skills that allow you to survive by living off the land. For urban or suburban dwellers, particularly people living in apartments or condos, these survival skills need to be adjusted to the realities of the city.

Some of the top survival resources for city dwellers:

4. Emergency Water Supplies

We probably spend more of our time on water than on anything else (even though, as reported above, website visitors seem to prefer reading about radios!). How to store water for an emergency, where to find more water when the emergency hits, and how to protect yourself from contaminated water – these are ongoing challenges that need to be overcome if we are to survive.

A few of the most comprehensive articles focused on water:

And finally, one topic unique to  . . .

5. Counting on Neighbors for Survival

We know that the first people to be there to help in an emergency are the people already there – the neighbor at home next door, or the co-worker at the next desk or in the next room.

With that being the case, we think that the more we all know, the better chance we’ll all have to survive, at least until professional help arrives.

We also know that professional help – police and fire – will be overwhelmed in the aftermath of a widespread disaster, so it may be hours or even days before they do arrive. A strong neighborhood team, ready to take action, just seems to make great sense.

Our 20-year commitment to neighborhood emergency preparedness has been focused primarily on building a neighborhood response team. It has been a labor of love – and yes, a LOT of labor!

The website has many stories about what it’s taken to build the group. You can find many of these stories by heading to the list of categories in the sidebar and clicking on “CERT” or “Neighborhood.”

We have even compiled much of this information into two in-depth resources:

I hope you’ll find this list of top survival resources helpful, and a reminder of areas in your own planning that may not be as secure as you’d like. Also, if you would like to see more on any aspect of emergency preparedness or disaster recovery, please just let me know!

Virginia and Joe
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

We mean it! Let us know in the comments what topics YOU like to read more about!

Survive a hurricane thanks to NIMS

Virginia promoting CERT
Virginia promoting CERT

I’m a very big fan of Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training. I took the course in 2001, and have been happily participating as a volunteer in various follow-up activities once or twice a year since. Accordingly, this summer Joe and I took a refresher course on NIMS, the National Incident Management System. We just finished it up last week.

With both hurricane and fire season ramping up, it felt like a good time for a review!

Here’s how we respond to emergencies in the U.S.

Citizens are usually the victims of an emergency — which also makes them the very first responders!

CERT members are citizen volunteers trained to respond – to help themselves and others.

Now when CERT members are activated by their sponsoring agency (police or fire department), they may find themselves working with other local volunteers, perhaps from a different city. They could easily be working with local or borrowed first responders – police and fire departments or emergency medical personnel – and maybe even other city, state or national agencies including the National Guard.

In a disaster you could find yourself surrounded by all sorts of professional responders — and all of them strangers. How would you be able to work with them?

Because of NIMS, everyone is able to work together!

Per FEMA, the purpose of NIMS is to “guide all levels of government including territories and tribes, nongovernmental organizations like the Red Cross, and the private sector (including families, faith-based organizations, etc.) to work together to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from incidents of all sizes, in all locations, no matter how simple or complex.

That’s a tall order!

The way I understand it, what NIMS really does is give everyone involved in an incident three important assets:

  • shared vocabulary
  • an agreed-upon management system that expands to coordinate disaster responders on the local, state and federal levels
  • a standardized approach to a specific on-the-ground incident

The “on-the-ground,” tactical component of NIMS is the ICS or Incident Command System.

As a neighborhood response team member, or as a CERT volunteer, you are most likely to be exposed to the ICS. Here’s how its underlying principle has been described to me: “The first person to arrive becomes the Incident Commander, until someone more senior/experienced takes over.” The command chain builds out, step by step, using a common hierarchy to incorporate as many people or teams as necessary. As the problem is resolved, the chain contracts.

Here are a couple of diagrams that will help explain the ICS:

Chart showing Incident Command System

The chart above shows the basic structure. At the top, the Commander, who is supported by a public information officer, safety officer and liaison officer. Directly under the Incident Commander are four “Sections.” Even your simple neighborhood disaster will have an Incident Commander and an Information Officer. You might also have Sections (though probably not a Finance section).

Below is a chart of a “fully expanded” Incident Command System. It shows the sub-groups associated with the various Sections. Again, if you are a small neighborhood group, like we are, your Operations Section might have Division Leaders (and Block Captains), all reporting up the chain to the Incident Commander. If you are able to field Special Teams (medical, search & rescue, etc.) they might logically fall into the Logistics Section.

Chart showing expanded Incident Command System

How did this all come to be?

After the terror of September 11, 2001, followed by the chaos of Hurricane Katrina in 2004, the nationwide approach to emergency management underwent dramatic changes. NIMS was formalized. Today, all official emergency management groups in the U.S. follow the NIMS system, and all “incidents” are managed using ICS, the Incident Command System.

If your community experiences a disaster, whoever comes to help will be following these systems. You will be far more useful and confident if you are familiar with the set-up and the vocabulary!

And if you are building your OWN citizen community teams, consider how they might fit into this same national framework. Of course, you don’t have to have every position. But try to choose titles for your positions that reflect the “official” vocabulary. You’ll find it far easier to integrate with professionals when they finally do arrive on the scene.

This short article is not really sufficient to explain the full system. Here are a couple of official resources for citizen volunteers.

(1) FEMA offers a series of online courses for volunteers and professionals at Start with IS-100 (a. is the original, b. and c. are updates).

(2) You can also purchase a book from Amazon, authored by FEMA, so you can have it to refer to at a meeting or in the field. Click on the image or on the link below for further details and price. (less than $10 as I write this.)

IS-100.B: Introduction to Incident Command System, ICS-100

Once again, please remember I’m writing this article after long-time familiarity but I’m not a professional emergency manager. Still, I hope you’ll get a helpful overview. Please feel free to comment with corrections or suggestions!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Muscle Memory and Emergency Preparedness Training

raining and muscle memory

By now we’ve all heard the concept of “muscle memory.” That is, if you practice something enough, when called upon your body will remember what to do even if your brain is sidetracked.

Professionals train constantly. They develop all kinds of muscle memory, and every day we hear stories how that training has paid off.

Volunteers, on the other hand, are a different story. When it comes to preparedness training for volunteers within the neighborhood, we have a challenge.

Here is the training challenge as I see it.

  • Even in a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training session with the guidance of professional instructors we can TALK about what to do in an emergency medical situation. We can SHOW people how clear airways, check for breathing, and test circulation. We can PRACTICE once or twice with professional supervision.

    Then we go home! And we are lucky to get a refresher course on those particular procedures within the next month or even 6 months!
  • In our local neighborhood group meetings we don’t have professionally-trained leaders. We depend on our own volunteer members to come up with good ways to prepare and to respond. When we’re lucky, we attract a guest speaker with special credentials.

    Then we go home! And we may never hear from that speaker again!

A current LinkedIn discussion group sees the challenge, too.

I participate in a LinkedIn group for emergency managers. There’s a discussion taking place right now about providing enough on-going training for people at different levels of expertise.

In particular, the discussion is focusing on the very audience I mentioned above – the concerned and committed volunteer who may be part of a local community but not part of a formal program.

How can we give these people the chance to develop that all-important “muscle memory?”

Here’s some of what I’ve learned about meeting the training challenge.

Online resources. There are a number of online resources, courses and online videos. We have used many of them in our group. The challenge is having to first find and then sort through them all, site by site and video by video, to find one that fits your group’s level of interest, its budget and is of a quality you’re comfortable with. As we know, there is no easy way to “rate” the quality of ANYTHING online!

Local resources. In our community we occasionally have the opportunity to attend a face-to-face course offered by the Red Cross or a health care organization. Some of these are free; most charge a fee. Some communities are more fortunate in that they have regular such programs offered through a university. (Here are two examples, the first at Columbia and the second at the University of Kansas. and

Books. By now, you realize I’ve tried to capture some training ideas in the books I’ve written.  The advantage of books is that they are inexpensive, available everywhere, and eminently portable. The disadvantage – reading about an idea in a book doesn’t train muscle memory! Some dedicated member of the group has to turn the idea into an actual training exercise. (That’s what I try to assist with in Emergency Preparedness Meeting Ideas.)

Training that can actually involve muscle memory is by far the most desirable. For volunteers, it’s still very tough to come by.

But when it comes to emergency preparedness, ANY training is better than none!

You can get started now with some of the resources mentioned above. One thing for sure: There will be no time for training once the disaster hits!

Day 24 of Summer Vacation: A time for some shorter and lighter Advisories as a welcome change-of-pace!

Earthquakes have positive result in our neighborhood!

Volunteer activity is positive result of earthquakes in California

The recent California earthquakes have had several positive results here where we live, in Southern California.

I already mentioned how our neighborhood emergency response group volunteers jumped into action after the 7.1 quake on July 6. There they were, out in the dark with their walkie-talkies, talking to people, passing along info to our mobile radio command post.

What happened the next day, though, was actually more exciting. Everywhere you could hear the second positive result from the earthquake: ordinary citizens talking and talking about the quakes and how to be more prepared next time!

  • “How should I be storing water? Do you have a water barrel? What about plastic bottles?”
  • “What’s the chance of a broken gas line? Should we turn off the gas?”
  • “What if I am trapped in my house?”

And hooray! Positive result #3 — Two more neighbors decided to join the team!

I am busy assembling the “recruiting” kits – some basic info and instructions, plus the two most important items for team members: a fluorescent vest and a battery-operated walkie-talkie.

If you are figuring out what your next move ought to be for summer – consider getting a couple of walkie-talkies!

They are fun for families camping, hiking or heading to a county fair. Small kids and teens like them. They are essential if you have wandering children or lagging-behind grandparents! And if you are interested in building a neighborhood emergency response team, you’ll want to practice with those walkie-talkies before you decide which ones to buy.

I’ve written reviews of the top 5 or 6 models every year. If you are really interested in more detail, please check out that page. There’s a whole lot of info there to absorb before you make a big buying decision.

Here’s a recommendation for you.

In the meanwhile, here’s information about my favorite model – and the one we use for our local neighborhood group. Simple, straightforward, flexible.   These use AAA batteries or rechargeables; you can also recharge by plugging into the wall. A pair costs less that a dinner out – and will make your summer a whole lot more memorable! (Click on the image to get details and prices at Amazon.)

If you manage to get a pair of walkie-talkies as a result of the earthquakes and of reading this Advisory, that would be the best positive result of all!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Day 10 of Summer Vacation: A time for some shorter and lighter Advisories as a welcome change-of-pace!

What exactly is CERT?


CERT is in all 50 states and in over 3,000 cities. Why, there may be a chapter in YOUR town that you didn’t know about!

So what exactly is CERT?

Community Emergency Response Team training is what started Joe and me off and what continues to provide structure and support to our local neighborhood group, even though many of our volunteers have NOT completed the training. Every one of my books builds on CERT principles!

Official CERT training takes about 24 hours, stretched over several days or weeks. This 6-minute video will give you a good idea of what CERT training means to ordinary people who are looking for a way to be better prepared and to have a stronger connection to their community.

What potential dangers are YOU concerned about? What did you see in the video that you would you like to know more about? Find out about CERT in your neighborhood. Just type into your browser the name of your city or town, followed by “CERT.”

Let us know what you discover! (And if you’ve already had some experience with CERT, please give us an idea of how it went in the comments, below.)

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Day 8 of Summer Vacation: A time for some shorter and lighter Advisories as a welcome change-of-pace!

Paranoid or trusting in an emergency?

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

Have you ever googled “emergency preparedness?” 

After a row of stuff for sale — survival kits, freeze dried food, first aid kits — you’ll hit the first of page after page of agencies ready to give you comprehensive and usually trustworthy advice.

Now go back and google “emergency preparedness forums.”

This is where people, not agencies, hang out!  The words associated with preparedness change immediately. You’ll see references to urban survivalists, bush craft, self-protection, weapons, primitive technology – passionate entries from writers getting ready for when the SHTF or we reach TEOTWAWKI. (See below if you need a reminder about what these stand for!)

s a writer about the topic, I get deep into just about everything: self-defense, camping skills, CERT, emergency communications, dealing with authorities, preventing fires, etc.

One of my favorite topics, though, is how to build stronger neighborhood groups. (Not too common a theme in other sites, actually!) I’ve been part of my own neighborhood group for over 17 years. What I hear from members of my neighborhood group is not that they are paranoid. They are not even particularly afraid.

Rather, they actively “want to help others.” Normally, you won’t read too much about that, either!

How people responded to the earthquakes in Ridgecrest has been an inspiration.

Watching TV coverage about the California earthquakes over the past few days certainly reinforced that message. In Ridgecrest,

  • Did you see how often people mentioned neighbors coming by to see if they needed help?
  • How neighbors were offering to do repairs for free?
  • How neighbors pitched in to help clean up?

The actions of these neighbors, victims all, encourages me to keep organizing, keep learning, and keep writing.

Oh, and here’s the quote from George R.R.Martin, author of A Game of Thrones, that got me started on this whole post, and inspired the image at the top of this page:

 “When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives.” 

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

  • SHTF = (when the) sh*t hits the fan
  • TEOTWAWKI = the end of the world as we know it

Day 7 of Summer Vacation: A time for some shorter Advisories as a welcome change-of-pace!

Earthquakes in California

Map of Active earthquakes in Southern California
Best source for earthquake news – USGS

A “robust sequence” of earthquakes.

That quote above is from the eminent seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones. If you’ve watched the news about the earthquakes in California, you’ve seen her.

Here’s a quick report from our community in Southern California.

We’re in Orange County, along the coast in Southern California, about 160 miles from the earthquake epicenter at Ridgecrest, which is more in the center part of the state.

But even here, we felt both of the largest quakes – the 6.4 on July 4th, and the 7.1 yesterday on July 5th. No comparison – that second quake was MUCH bigger! 

When it started, I was seated right here at my computer. The chair seemed to be moving left and right. Then it was definitely moving left and right! That died down, and then things started shaking. The whole house started bumping, rattling, creaking, clunking, blinds banging and banging against the windows! Happily, our lights stayed on. I moved away from the computer and monitor and my bookshelves, but nothing fell.

In the end, things gradually returned to normal. Today, the only damage I could find in my house were three new hairline cracks, perfectly aligned about 4 feet apart, from one side to the other of the tile kitchen floor.

Our neighborhood emergency response team got into action.

We are always preparing for earthquakes in California. Here in our community, several people quickly made phone calls, and we were also able to connect via email, but our main communications took place via walkie-talkies. Within about 5 minutes, neighbors were checking on neighbors and reporting in. Two of our team members monitored the news (using ham radio, too) and shared what they were learning. That info was passed along via the walkie-talkies. Within about 20 minutes, everyone had reported in to our “Command” channel: “People in the streets, no damage.”

What happened in Ridgecrest was far worse, and is a reminder about being prepared.

We should be prepared for any emergency with basic supplies:

  1. Sturdy shoes
  2. Flashlights and lanterns!
  3. First Aid kit
  4. Water
  5. Non-perishable food (in non-breakable containers)
  6. Blankets

In earthquake country, you want to stash these items throughout your house.

An earthquake isn’t like a storm, where you probably have some warning to grab your survival kit and head to shelter. In a quake you will still be at home afterwards, and so you want to be able to get to your supplies even if parts of the home are damaged.

And talk over a plan for contacting family members after an emergency. Be sure to include an out-of-area contact number.

Now, in my case, our out-of-state contact person, my brother – was somewhere on a boat headed to Alaska! So we need to set up a secondary contact right away.

What comes next?

We’ll be operating for a while based on what we learned last night about earthquakes in California. For us, the good news is our neighborhood volunteers were prepared and DID WHAT THEY HAD TRAINED TO DO.  

If you are interested in building a neighborhood emergency response group, or strengthening the one you have, we have resources that can help! Check out our website:! and if you have specific questions, please be in touch directly. We have some real experience — even more today than before — and we’d love to share.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Day 6 of Summer Vacation: A time for some shorter and lighter Advisories as a welcome change-of-pace! (Or at least, that was the plan!)

CERT Challenge: Overcoming Apathy and Procrastination

“How prepared are they?”

We sat at the 2nd Wednesday monthly meeting of our CERT Leaders and stared gloomily as one of our members gave yet another status report about some of “her” residents in the community. “Not one extra can of food. Not one extra bottle of water.”

Her neighborhood had many elderly residents. In some cases, residents are handicapped by lack of funds. In others, the reason is plain apathy, procrastination or worse. You may hear: “It’s the government’s job to provide for us in an emergency.”

Are “governments” responsible to care for us in a disaster? How capable are they?

We saw an answer to the second question in interviews by the media following Hurricane Sandy’s damage in New Jersey. Local and state governments were overwhelmed and unable to respond. Likewise, relief agencies like the Red Cross and Salvation Army were also overtaxed by the enormity of the event. Some people went weeks without services.

More recently, we watched the Federal Government pretty much abandon the victims of Hurricane Maria, in Puerto Rico.

And here in California, huge fires have pulled emergency responders from communities distant from the fires and even from other states — leaving the people left at home without full protection for days and even weeks.’

These disasters damage communities and even destroy them. And usually, it’s people who are less affluent who suffer the most.

And these disasters pose an important question for all of us: What can we do to help? Are we doing it?

And the most difficult version of that same question:

Are we prepared to share with people who ignored warnings?

Are we ready to care for irresponsible neighbors as well as ourselves in a disaster scenario? That question presents responsible citizens with untenable choices.

Here in our neighborhood we are admittedly better prepared than most. Over 70% of our residents indicate that they have some food and water set aside for emergencies, largely as a result of ongoing education programs that span a decade.

But 70% isn’t 100%. More needs to be done.

Never stop educating people on the realities of a disaster.

Here in our neighborhood we regularly publish “educational bulletins” and, when circumstances allow, bring in guest speakers to talk about preparedness. Some of the best bulletins:

  • Recognize a gas line leak. (Gas company)
  • Clean up around the house to prevent a wildfire. (Fire Department)
  • Vial of life — important emergency info for the refrigerator.

Some of our most successful meetings:

  • What’s in your emergency kit? (Show and tell!)
  • Try out a fire extinguisher! (Thanks to Fire Department)
  • Retrofit your home to withstand an earthquake. (Neighborhood contractor)

Maybe if we make a party out of preparing for emergencies . . .

Every neighborhood volunteer group is always looking for ways to engage new neighbors. We hear about some of the good ones!

During a power outage, one neighborhood held a “Power Outage Picnic.” People brought meat to the party and a couple of volunteers with gas-burning grills cooked it up for everyone to share! By lantern light!

We held an “emergency preparedness fair” sponsored by the local hardware store. They brought dozens of items as demos, then handed attendees a coupon for 20% off if they would come to the store to buy.

After all these years of coming up with educational ideas and trainings, we finally put together a whole book with ideas for 21 activities to help overcome apathy and procrastination. That book has been our consistent best seller! If you are looking for some inspiration, consider getting a copy for YOUR neighborhood.

Emergency Preparedness Meeting Ideas

Each one of the activities comes with objectives, procedures, materials you’ll need, and commentary. And there’s a separate planning sheet for each activity to make it easy for volunteers to step up and take a turn as host. You can find out more about Meeting Ideas here.

The point of all this? Leaders have to recognize that preparedness is an ongoing challenge. You may have to wheedle or even use a little guilt now and then to get people to take action. But with a few ideas and some energetic team members, you can make a big difference in how resilient your community will be.

We think it’s worth it. That’s what this website is all about!