Tag: communications

Tracking Devices for Emergency Communications

Lost child in urban setting
Wandering? Lost? or OK?

Two news stories of missing persons right here in our neighborhood have prompted this Advisory on tracking devices.

The first news story was a notice that a 7 year-old-boy had “disappeared” while playing in a local park. The second announced that a 79-year-old grandfather had “last been seen 15 hours ago.” (15 hours!) Could tracking devices have avoided the anxiety and fear that these families experienced?

Being prepared always includes planning for emergency communications. A missing person emergency means taking advantage of tracker technology. We all need to know more about it.

If you are considering buying a tracking device, you may want to use this Advisory to create a simple checklist of features to look for – or look out for.

Basics of Medical Alert and Tracking Devices

What do these devices do?

The most comprehensive trackers make it possible for the wearer of a tracker to be directly in touch with family or with emergency personnel without having to dial a phone.

  • The simplest devices are the medical alerts we see on television in the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” ads. In this case, you push the button on your device and are connected by phone to an answering service or “dispatcher.” The dispatcher relays important information to family members or, if necessary, to EMTs.
  • At the other end of the spectrum are systems with two components. First, there’s the tracking device worn by the client. Second, there’s a cellphone app monitored by the family member or guardian. Either party may initiate a face-to-face video call — even from as far away as another state!
  • Of course, there are lots of variations in between. But all these devices and apps rely on the answering service personnel who respond to the different devices and connect with family and/or First Responders.

What if I don’t need or want to be able to talk through the tracker, simply want to follow someone or something?

When I first wrote this Advisory way back in 2021, the Apple AirTag didn’t come up on my browser. Lately, though, it’s top of the list! So, let’s start with this simple little device.

Drop one of the disks into a backpack or a purse, or fasten it to your keys or your kid’s bike. Link it to your iPhone with just a click. Now, when you want to know where the object is, your phone will direct you to its location (within a couple of feet). You can set it to give off a tone to make finding things even easier. (“I know my keys are in this room somewhere!”)

One of my first questions: What is to keep someone up to no good from dropping an Air Pad into my briefcase or my kid’s backpack, and monitoring every move? And the answer: When your phone notices an AirTag “following you” but that it doesn’t belong to you, you’ll get an alert and even a sound so you can know just where it is.

We’ve included the AirTag as the first in the list of examples below.

What is the “category” of equipment I’m looking for?

I found information under these topics:

  • “Medical alert systems”
  • “Personal safety trackers”
  • “GPS trackers”
  • “Finding missing persons”

You may want to add the word “kid” or “child” or a specific medical description like “Alzheimer’s” or “dementia” to help get you more quickly to the right piece of equipment.

What’s included in the package?

All the systems I saw start with a battery-operated tracking device that is attached to the “client,” whether that’s you or your wanderer. Some of the trackers are “worn” like a bracelet, wrist watch or a piece of jewelry. Others can be attached to a backpack, belt, etc. or even hidden in a pocket or shoe. (Many missing persons end up with no ID or other personal possessions, so a hidden and permanently affixed tracking device is what’s best for them.)

All the trackers require batteries; some have some sort of charging base.  (Battery life varies dramatically. Be sure to confirm.) 

As already mentioned, the most sophisticated systems offer a cellphone app for the parent or guardian at home. The app shows the location of the tracking device and, hopefully, the missing person. Some apps allow for images and even conversations to be exchanged between wanderer and guardian and with First Responders if necessary.

What do tracking devices cost?

There’s no standard pricing model, but most start with a monthly subscription fee, as you might expect with any telephone service. I saw one monthly rate less than $5/month, but most are between $20 to $40/month. Some extras, such as “fall alert’ or “car crash alert,” can be added to the basic service, typically for something like $10/mo.

A contract is not always required. Some services offer a month by month payment plan. Usually you can get a discount by paying a whole year’s fee in advance.

You may get the equipment itself for free but in many cases you’ll have to pay for it. As with many technologies, the smaller the device, the more expensive. And the fanciest wristwatch or jewelry versions can cost multiple hundreds of dollars.

And at least one company I saw also charges an activation fee to set up the whole system.

As you shop, watch for all these different costs.

How far does the coverage reach?

Once again, there are varying levels of service. The simplest and cheapest “push-button” medical alert programs really only cover you inside your home.  They require a landline or a cellphone to provide the telephone connection to dispatch.

Monitoring outside your home uses cellphone technology. Most current out-of-home or on-the-go tracking systems seem to be built around the 4G-LTE technology. One of the examples below actually allows you to set up “geo-fences.” When your family member or teen-aged driver goes outside the “fenced area” you get an alert!

Note: While your regular cellphone may work across the country or even around the world, your tracking company’s service may be limited to the U.S. If you’re planning to travel, be sure you check! Moreover, if your device operates only on 2G, it may not serve your needs. Read the fine print.

Who actually answers the phone if an alert is activated?

By now, you realize that different plans work different ways. If you’re wearing your medical alert at home and you fall, pushing the button will connect you with a live person at a dispatch center. In some cases, your signal may trigger a call-back to your regular phone.

If your child is wearing a simple “stay in touch” watch, his call will come directly to whomever is programmed into the phone, probably you. You can then reach out to others for additional help.

The tracking programs with cellphone apps may let both the wearer and the person doing the monitoring initiate a conversation as well as connect with others.

What else should I look for?

As I reviewed the different tracking services, I made note of a few more details you might want to add to your own checklist.

  • How easy is the set-up? Can I get a video to help?  (Read reviews!)
  • What sort of warranty exists on the equipment?
  • Can the device be hidden from view or even easily attached to the wearer without his knowing it?

Examples of Tracking Devices and Programs

The programs and devices listed here rose to the top of my list as I looked for different levels and types of service.

Simple and inexpensive.

If you own an iPhone 6s or later, running iOS 14.5 or later, the Apple AirTag will work for you. Individual AirTags cost close to $30, but when you buy more than one (and why wouldn’t you?!), they get a lot cheaper. There are, as you can imaging, different versions: plain, engravable, with hooks, etc. When I looked on Amazon, where we are Associates (and earn a little commission from people who buy through our link), there were a variety of packages and prices. Get the best deal by carefully comparing!

P.S. Own an Apple Watch? You can get AirTag notifications on your watch, too.

So small it’s almost unnoticeable!

The 2021 version of the Jiobit has lots of features, a low monthly fee, and a hefty price for the device itself. But it’s wonderfully sized– only about as big as a standard car fob! Easy to fasten to a backpack or belt. Waterproof, GPS.

Jiobit (2021) – Smallest Real-Time GPS Location Tracker for Personal Safety | Kids, Pets, Elderly, Adults | Tiny, Waterproof, Durable, Encrypted | Long-lasting Battery Life | Cellular, Bluetooth, WiFi

Modest cost, more features for closer tracking.

In contrast to the Jobit above, the Spark Nano 7 Micro is advertised as being a great “hidden” or “covert” tracking device. That is, you can attach it to your employee’s truck, or maybe your teenage driver’s car, to see just where they’re going throughout the day. You can tell how fast they’re driving, too! (A real-time update comes every 6o seconds.) Coverage extends across all of North America.

If you want, you can set geofences so you know if your driver goes outside his or her assigned territory. (This was on sale at a drastically reduced price, last I looked.)

Brickhouse Security Spark Nano 7 LTE Micro GPS Tracker for Covert Monitoring of Teen Drivers, Kids, Elderly, Employees, Assets. Subscription Required!

Basic Medical Alert button designed for travelers.

Attention: Several manufacturers use the word “Guardian” in the name of their product. This one is specifically from Medical Guardian.™ Moreover, Medical Guardian itself has a number of similarly named products with very different features. This “Mini” device, for example, has GPS, while others from the same manufacturer don’t. Be sure to compare carefully!

The Mini Guardian is designed to track you across the country using cell phone towers. It is small — about half the size of other models from Medical Guardian. You can wear it as a clip or on a necklace – and even in the shower, since it is waterproof. Need help? Press the alert button to be connected to an operator who can direct help to your location and let family members or care givers know, too.

Mini Guardian 4G Life Saving Medical Alert System by Medical Guardian™ – GPS Tracking, Emergency Fall Alert Button, 24/7 Alert Button for Seniors, Nationwide LTE Cellular (1 Month Free) (Silver)

Best tracking device for people with special needs.

Finally, even if you feel you or your family member doesn’t fit the “special needs” definition, I recommend you look closely at the AngelSense tracking service. Click on the link below to get prices and details at Amazon. Then, while still on the Amazon page, click on the link to the AngelSense store. There you will see some excellent documentation! Read the stories and watch the videos to get a complete understanding of this comprehensive service. They will paint a vibrant picture of just how valuable the right tracking device can be for your peace of mind.

The service is particularly designed for autistic children. It features a device that can’t be removed, a daily tracking history, and alerts if your child wanders or arrives late. It even allows you to share your child’s current, real-time location with authorities. If I had a child I wouldn’t hesitate to get this service.

AngelSense Personal GPS Tracker for Kids, Teen, Autism, Special Needs, Elderly, Dementia – 2-Way Auto-Answer Speakerphone & SOS Button – School Bus Tracking – Easy-to-Use App

One last recommendation from Virginia.

If you have a wanderer in your family, contact your local police NOW to see if they sponsor a special “missing persons” program. Different cities have different services, but the key to all of them is having a PROFILE OF YOUR FAMILY MEMBER on file. That profile will have a photo, contact information, information about the person’s typical behavior, even medical background. Time is of the essence when someone is lost! The faster authorities can jump into action, the better the chances of a safe return.

Best of luck in preventing the unique emergency of a lost child or other family member.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Getting the Message Out to Neighbors While Shut In


I started this Advisory as a piece on “Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.” It was a reflection of the importance of communicating these days in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. But I decided that theme would focus too much on “evil,” so I dialed back to “getting the message out.”

Certainly, our ways of communicating have changed! Here are three events from just the past week that relate to getting the message out. I wanted to share them to see whether they parallel some of what you’ve been experiencing.

1 – “Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind.” Shakespeare, Midsummer Night’s Dream

Wednesday I was part of a conference call. Big deal, you yawn. Everybody knows that conference calls, and particularly Zoom calls, are the way communications are taking place these days.

But this one was different, because it was a call among members of our community who are blind or visually impaired.

Think about that for a moment.

If you can’t see well, you certainly can’t see those Blue Angels streaking across the TV screen, much less across the sky. You can’t binge on Hulu or Netflix. Even when your children call, all you may get is their voices – no smiling faces or gurgling babies, or whatever images would be showing on FaceTime.

People with vision problems are often isolated anyway. We have a group that meets every month, just to give friends a chance to get out and get together safely.

Because of the coronavirus, of course, our meetings have been cancelled.

So yesterday’s UberConference® call was a new experience – and the first time most of these senior citizens had been on such a call.

The call turned out to be a home run!  

Everyone figured out how to get aboard (Dial, type in the call ID number), handled “mute” and “unmute” at the right time (“Press star twide”).  

Best of all, friends whom we normally see/hear only at a monthly meeting got a chance to hear each other’s voices! We laughed and laughed at the stories people told –

  • “My son came to visit and went shopping for us. He seems to have forgotten that we are just two people, because he came home with a gallon of sour cream and 10 pounds of pasta!”
  • “I’m glad I’ve retired from teaching! I had enough trouble with this call. I don’t know how I would have managed the “online learning” technology.”
  • “As I heard your voices, I pictured you all sitting around the table at our usual meeting.  Then it hit me — we are all in separate houses!!”

So, this was a first – and now, something we will use again. This truly was a message of love looking “with the mind.”  Who do you know who might appreciate being able to join in a group call?

2 – “Hear no evil, speak no evil, and you won’t be invited to cocktail parties.” ~ Oscar Wilde

I couldn’t resist this quote and had to fit it into this Advisory! It’s a bit off the topic, but hey. We’re sharing ways of communicating, right?

So here’s another communications first, one you can share in.

Just about a month ago, one of my emergency preparedness contacts on LinkedIn asked if Joe and I would do a podcast for his “radio station.”

“When I saw you had published a book on how to build community preparedness, I knew I wanted to hear the story,” said Preston Schleinkofer. President and Founder of Civil Defense Virginia.

Preston has developed his own program to encourage more community members to join in with local government authorities to “preserve safety, security and constitutional government functions” in the case of natural disasters and man-made catastrophes. (Us oldsters will recognize that Preston has come up with a new definition for “Civil Defense.”)

You can read about Preston’s 501©3 organization at https://civildefenseva.org/ and get more about his philosophy of Continuity of Community. You can also hear the interview he did with Joe and me at http://CivilDefenseRadio.com! You’ll see Emergency Plan Guide right there at the top of his list of podcasts!

What helps get communities to work together?

As we listened to our voices (always a sort of out-of-body experience) I heard us identifying some of what has helped us build our local neighborhood groups. In the past you’ve heard how we based our organizing on CERT. But we also brought our own background to the table. Namely:

  • Both Joe and I have done door-to-door selling! (There’s nothing like it for building self-confidence.)
  • Both of us have trained and taught students, employees, and professional colleagues.

Since we’re both writers, too, it has been a natural for us to translate our 20 years of business and community experiences into some do-it-yourself guide books. The first series was to help communities improve their level of preparedness. Our newest series is aimed at personal preparedness.

As Preston says, “Everyone is more of a preparedness expert now, as a result of the coronavirus.”  I invite you to take a listen to all of his podcasts for info about even more emergencies we ought to be concerned with, including grid failure from electromagnetic pulse.

3 – “Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.” Margaret Atwood,The Handmaid’s Tale

Earlier this week the White House rejected CDC guidelines aimed at getting the message out about how best to manage a phased re-opening of the economy. Apparently the guidelines were “too prescriptive.”

Sorry, but I read “too prescriptive” as “too hard for ordinary Americans to understand and follow.”

So the guidelines have been removed from the CDC website!  (Go there looking for them and you get an “Oops, can’t find that!” message.)

With thousands of people dying every day, I believe that most of us would WANT the chance to see some expert information to make our lives safer. Dumbing it down just doesn’t make sense to me – that is “working” at ignoring, as Margaret Atwood says.

I hope these three examples of “getting the message out” have inspired you as we continue to cope with this astonishing historical development, the COVID-19 pandemic. What can you add about communicating?

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

What will your re-opening look like?

Re-open business after coronavirus. What will the business look like?

Our daily conversations are focusing on three things: health, mental health, and re-opening.

“What are the latest numbers of people sick and dying from the coronavirus?”

Even though there is controversy and even antagonism among neighbors about how these numbers are being reported, the numbers are high. They are getting higher every single day. Over sixty thousand Americans gone forever!  Enough to make me cry every day and have trouble sleeping nearly every night.

“How can we get through this shut-down with some degree of grace?”

Websites, TV shows and YouTube videos have exploded on how to spend time at home – engaging with children, learning new skills, practicing reflection and meditation, exercising, making music, renewing communications with family and friends, etc., etc.  Many of these recommendations are useful and encouraging, and we share them on our blog.

“How soon will stay-at-home orders be lifted?”

Re-opening has been a hot topic for the administration since the first days of the shut-down. Lately opening has actually been declared in a number of places (with no obvious rationalization).  As it turns out, today (April 30) is the last day for the social distancing guidelines set by the President back in March. At the same time, governors have set their own guidelines.   

No matter when it happens, we do expect every community to go through a “re-opening.”

What will a realistic re-opening look like? How should we be preparing?

Earlier this year, we were all thinking of “getting back to normal.”

Now, however, we realize that “normal” includes images of crowded beaches, sweaty basketball games, kids head to head in classrooms, party-goers with drinks in their hands, church members holding hands as they pray . . .  Does this make sense now that we know how the virus spreads?

Probably not. Certainly that definition of re-opening is not what public sentiment seems to support at this time.

Now it looks as though “re-opening” will be phased.

A phased opening uses statistics (new cases, hospitalizations, etc. plus testing with rapid results) to track what’s happening and guide the steps.

Phase one would allow “openings” of lower-risk workplaces and some public spaces. Later phases would open higher-risk workplaces and public gatherings (weddings, for example). Finally, everything would be open.

No matter how it’s done, “open” won’t be “back to normal.” We need to prepare ourselves and our kids for . . .

  • Continued wearing of masks, maybe even adding other personal protective equipment at work where it was never considered before.
  • A lot of testing to see whether we are healthy. Different types of tests (nasal swabs, saliva tests, blood tests) at various places and various times.
  • Regular taking of temperatures. Before you go into school, before you enter your workplace, before you can visit a place of business.
  • Required medical treatments (as they become available), such as anti-viral treatments and/or vaccines.
  • Different travel arrangements. For example, instead of taking the bus or train, using ride sharing or taxis.
  • A “new look” at school and in the workplace: furniture spaced out, physical barriers between desks and people. “Isolation rooms” for people with symptoms. Every other stall in the restroom closed off.
  • A “new look” for cafeterias and lunch rooms in the way food is packaged and served.
  • New and different schedules, such as staggered breaks, revised hours, smaller groups, etc. A lot more time devoted to cleaning.
  • Continued “work at home” and “learn at home” using online resources. (Do you or your kids need more powerful devices? More bandwidth? Do you need better security?)

Successful re-opening will require expert communications.

In a world that routinely offers up confusing and even contradictory messages, it’s going to be a challenge to let people know what to expect when society is re-opened.

We’ll need expertise to make sure these new “realities” are clearly communicated. If you are a business or community leader, start considering how you might use these professionals.

  • Graphic artists can illustrate the new room layouts and new schedules. Just talking about “more social distancing at work” doesn’t really prepare people to find only half the number of desks they are used to.
  • Video experts can give people virtual walk-throughs before schools or workplaces are reopened. Children in particular want to feel secure when they head back to a school that doesn’t look the same as the one they left behind.
  • Professional copywriters can explain the HOW and the WHY of changes to make sure re-openings go smoothly and safely. It takes skilled writers to give people confidence and get their agreement to follow new procedures.

If you are a parent, it is up to you to prepare your children for the upcoming changes. Start now!  “When you go back to school, I bet you’ll find . . .”

Unlike most of our Advisories, this one isn’t based on actual experience. The description of re-opening may not be accurate in every detail. But we do know from experience that preparing for change gives us a better chance of getting through it without major upset.

We hope you can share the thoughts in this Advisory to help others understand that “re-opening” will be oh, so welcome — but it won’t be “back to normal.”

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

April – Month of Action

Simple Survival Signals Can Help Speed a Needs Assessment


Survival signal flare

Wham! Your neighborhood is hit by an emergency! Before you do anything else, you check immediately on your own condition and the condition of the place where you are.

Then, if you are a member of a CERT or NERT team, you set out to check on others and help come up with a Needs Assessment(Our team members, like others, use checklists to record and walkie-talkies to report on how many people have been impacted, who is injured and to what degree, and what’s the status of neighborhood structures.)

The full needs assessment may take quite a while.

  • You and a partner can try to hurry to every single house on the street, interviewing residents and noting damage. But that may be beyond your physical capability.
  • You can try to call everyone on the street. However, even if you know all their phone numbers, that, too, would take a long time — dialing, hearing their story, answering questions, leaving messages, etc. (Besides, in a big emergency the phones may be down or overloaded.)
  • If you had a drone, and knew how to make it function, and it was daytime, you could send it up to view the houses. Of course, you wouldn’t be talking to residents.

Time is of the essence!

Here are three simple survival signals that might speed the needs assessment in your neighborhood.

These signals are in use by various neighborhoods in our Southern California area. Obviously, every region/neighborhood is different. But if one of these makes sense for you, or a version of one makes sense, bring it up with your group. Of course, not one of these will work without NONE of the signals works unless people have been  have come up with different ways to SIGNAL they are OK. All of these “systems” have come into play after group discussion, and they only work if people have been trained to use them in advance of the emergency.

Simple Survival Signal #1: White Towel Over the Mailbox

In closely-spaced neighborhoods like ours, we can stand at one corner and see all the way down the street to the corner. Many residential neighborhood developments around the country are laid out similarly.White towel signals OK

In an emergency, if people would SIGNAL THEY ARE OK by putting a white towel over the mailbox. A quick glance would tell rescuers to head to the next house.  (Note how the white towel in the photo stands out!)

Advantages of the white towel system:

  • Everyone has a white towel or rag or can get one. (White cloths are sold inexpensively in packages, as rags.)
  • Towel won’t be damaged by getting wet or dirty.
  • White towel is visible day or night.

Disadvantage of this system:

  • Won’t work if you don’t have mailboxes or other structure at curb in front of each house.

Simple Survival Signal #2: Red Card, Green Card in the Window

At a recent meeting sponsored by the Earthquake Alliance here in Southern California, we were shown a great printed resource designed to be handed out to everyone in a neighborhood. It’s an oversized tri-fold brochure printed on heavy paper, with all kinds of interesting facts and tips about preparing for disaster.

Two of the panels are signaling devices. One has a big OK in Green. On the reverse is printed a big red HELP! In an emergency you put the appropriate sign up in your window to let first responders/neighbors know what’s what. (The image shows two of the brochures so you can see both red and green panels.)

Emergency Signal SignAdvantages of the colored card system:

  • A sign inside the house won’t get blown away or damaged by weather or vandals.
  • This sign is big enough and heavy enough that it won’t be accidentally tossed.
  • Resident won’t have to go outside to place signal.

Disadvantages of this system:

  • All residents in the neighborhood would need to be provided with the signs (cost).
  • Someone has to design, write and print the signs, which would be different for every region.
  • Window sign is probably only visible from directly in front of the house or window.
  • Probably not visible at night.

The green/red signal doesn’t have to be printed. It could be as simple as two pieces of construction paper, one red and one green. Store them near the front window, of course.

Simple Survival Signal #3: Survival Whistle Calling For Help

Ok, what if you are trapped under fallen debris? You certainly can’t place the red (HELP!) card in the window. And depending on ambient noise, time, etc., you may quickly become exhausted calling for help.

But nearly everyone would be able to use a whistle to signal their need for help – as long as they can get the whistle to their mouth.

The universal signal: three loud, short blasts followed by a pause, and then three more loud, short (3 seconds?) blasts.

Advantages of having a survival whistle:

  • Whistles are small, light-weight and easy to carry – on a key chain, connected to your purse, on a lanyard fastened to your backpack, etc.
  • Whistle can be large, small, colorful or discreet. You can find the style you like.
  • Whistles can be used for other purposes, too – calling kids, scaring away animals, warning drivers, etc.
  • Nearly every whistle I’ve ever seen costs less than $10.

Disadvantages of a survival whistle:

  • A poor quality whistle will NOT serve. A cheap whistle (the kind with a round “pea” inside) can jam. (I have experienced this!) The sound made by cheap whistles can also be too soft. You want 90 to 120 decibels of sound.
  • Super loud whistles may require earplugs.
  • Even though they cost less than $10, buying whistles for a whole group can become expensive.

There are so many whistle choices! I personally have a half-dozen or so different whistles, because I keep seeing ones I want to try! A couple of them are just to fat or ugly to make me feel like carrying them. (I use them for show and tell at our meetings!) But I have found a couple that I really like, and I have them with me all the time. Check out the whistles below for yourself, your family (great little surprise gifts) or your group. Click on the images or the links to go directly to Amazon.

Perfect for EDC — Every Day Carry

I really like this brass whistle! It’s neat, attractive, sleek, reaches 120 decibels.  It’s truly mini — small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. Of course, I’d want to attach it to a key chain or add some sort of lanyard; the gold ring looks sturdy and well made. AND the whistle costs less than $5 as I write this!

Mini Whistle Premium Emergency Whistle by Outmate-H62 Brass Loud Version EDC Tools

Businesslike and flexible

The whistle below comes as a two-pack, with carabiner and lanyard included for a variety of fastening options. Still, it’s not too bulky. This is the loudest of the three examples. Its stainless steel double-tube design can achieve 150 decibels — that sound carries farther, too! Also less than $5 each.

Michael Josh 2PCS Outdoor Loudest Emergency Survival Whistle with Carabiner and Lanyard for Camping Hiking Dog Training (Gold)

Fun and sporty

This third example also comes as a 2-pack. The whistles are dual tube, made of colorful, unbreakable plastic, waterproof. (Plastic doesn’t stick to your lips in the cold, either.) Matching lanyards are also sporty, would attach well to backpack, sports equipment. These whistles might not blend in  so swell with business attire (!), but look great for sporting events, camping, etc.  Loudness: 120 decibels.

HEIMDALL Safety Whistle with Lanyard (2 Pack) for Boating Camping Hiking Hunting Emergency Survival Rescue Signaling

I hope you’ll take a serious look at these simple survival signal ideas, and share them with your neighbors. And let us know how your tests work!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Of course, you will likely turn to your cellphone as your very FIRST signalling tool in an emergency. Even if the phone does work, it would take a long time to dial up all your family and neighbors. Better? Pre-program your phone so you can send a TEXT MESSAGE all at once to a group, with just the push of a button!  (If the president can do it, we can too.) I’m researching programs for this right now. Do you have any recommendations?






Radio Communications in an Emergency



“I can’t reach her!”

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

  • Handheld home phones (“rove-a-phones”) depend on electricity for power. If you experience an outage, your house phones may not work at all.
  • Old style land lines messages may go through when a home phone doesn’t work. But they have to go through a central office before getting distributed to another connection.  An earthquake or storm may cause lines to break or that local office to be damaged.
  • Cell phones “broadcast” your voice or data to antennas that are connected through a network of computers and then are re-broadcast from other antennas to the recipient’s location.  Even if you have a strong battery, if the antennas are damaged or the computers inoperative, cell phones won’t work.

The problem for everyone, no matter WHAT kind of phone . . .

System overload!

With everybody on a network trying to get through at once, the circuits (which typically can only handle about 10% of the total subscribers at best) will be overloaded and calls won’t go through . . . especially local point-to-point calls within the affected area. Remember these examples where service was shut down because of overload — people calling to check on each other, to share video, etc.?

  • Boston Marathon
  • Superbowl
  • Earthquake in SF Bay area
  • Mass shooting in Las Vegas

Naturally, you might ask, “Why not add more capacity to the system?”

Building more towers and more switching stations could make it possible for more traffic to be carried in an emergency. But since emergencies by their very nature are unpredictable, it would be impossible to know WHERE to put all this extra equipment. Even if it were installed, the overcapacity would then sit idle probably 364 days a year until it were needed.

So, massive infrastructure upgrades are not likely to happen!

What are our options?

If you personally are caught in an emergency  at home, check to see if you have (1) cell service, (2) home service and/or (3) hardwired landline.

If you do have cell service, keep in mind . . .

  • Calling locally may be difficult or impossible. Call outside your local area — for example, making a long-distance call to your out-of-town contact may work.
  • Use email and text — they require less bandwidth than voice and may get through.
  • Register and use the Red Cross Safe and Well app so family members can check there, instead of trying to reach you by phone.

Note: If you don’t have your cell phone, or it’s damaged, or the batteries have died, you will need to have memorized a few important phone numbers or be able to put your hands on a written list!

Now, if you are on the planning committee for a big event, you’ll want to find out more about temporary solutions like these:

  • A wireless network —  can be installed in a matter of hours, saving event organizers time and money on the overall cost of the project.
  • Mobile cell towers on wheels or light trucks, along with specialty antennas — boost network traffic capacity.
  • Low altitude airborne platforms hovering over an emergency (imagine a tethered helium balloon or a drone) — easily extend a communications network over a difficult terrain or dangerous location.

As for First Responders, in 2017 AT&T won a 25-year contract from FirstNet to build and run a broadband network that will cater to first responders including police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical services in all 50 states. More about this as we learn it!

Another option for keeping in touch locally — walkie-talkies.

When all phones are down, maybe for an extended period, you’ll want to consider walkie-talkies, or hand-held radios.

They are an inexpensive and practical way to communicate within a neighborhood between family members, emergency team members, etc. While their range is limited to a mile or less for most inexpensive units, that is usually sufficient for communicating within a neighborhood.  After all, since the frequencies are public, you really don’t want to be receiving other communities’ conversations in the middle of your activities.

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

Action Item:  What are the chances your neighborhood could be hit by a storm? What about your workplace? Could you could be trapped? Consider keeping a walkie-talkie in each room of the house or office so that you could communicate with rescuers on a pre-arranged radio frequency.

There’s much more here at Emergency Plan Guide on the subject of communication and the discipline of emergency response team volunteers in using the different radio frequencies. Check out the links below, and consider picking up a pair of walkie-talkies for practice. You can get basic ones starting at around $20 a pair. We use ours in emergencies, but also when we’re camping, at conventions or the fair, and certainly at big entertainment events. They are an alternative to your cellphone that you may never have really thought about.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

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

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Safer at Home in an Emergency


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

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

“No, No, No!”

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

Consider these emergency conditions in a clubhouse.

  1. Will the clubhouse be standing?

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

  1. Will the clubhouse be open?

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

  1. Will there be electricity or phone service?

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

  1. Will there be food?

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

  1. Will there be bathroom facilities?

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

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

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

Your home is the best place to be.

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

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

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

  1. Will the house be standing?

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

  1. Will your home be open?

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

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

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

  1. Will there be food?

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

  1. Will there be bathroom facilities?

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

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

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

Think again!
Virginia and Joe
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

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

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

Walkie-Talkies for Emergency Neighborhood Communications


“I read you loud and clear.”

Walkie Talkies
Compare sizes to smartphone, lower center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I read you loud and clear.”

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

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

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


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

Insurmountable legal problems

Pain of dealing with legal problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Can you prove who you are?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Copy and paste this link:  https://emergencyplanguide.org/legal-problems-surface/.





Trapped alive — How to let the world know?


In a collapsed building

Rescue workers in earthquake

Who will get there first?

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

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

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

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

And if it were you?

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

How to let people know your whereabouts?!

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

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

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

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

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

Is there an answer? 

Well, maybe there are a couple . . .

Silver Whistle

Low tech yes — but it will always work!

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

Something to think about, depending on your daily routine.

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

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


Joe Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team