Disasters can strike when you least expect them, and you may not be with your family when they happen. Having a family communication plan can help you get in contact with your loved ones during an emergency.
In our latest podcast, APHA’s Get Ready team speaks with Jeffrey Mitchell, clinical professor of emergency health services at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County and co-founder of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, about the importance of including communications in family emergency preparedness planning.
“Make sure that you don’t make the plan so complex that people are not able to follow it,” Mitchell says. “It needs to be simple; it needs to be done with some degree of speed, and it has to be very effective so it works for the family system.”
Social media tools and text messaging can be fast, effective ways to communicate during a disaster, and Mitchell encourages incorporating them into your plan. Facebook and Twitter can be especially useful tools if you can’t get to a phone or if phone lines are down or overloaded, he noted. For family members who don’t use social media, it’s important to have other communication plans.
“If you have elderly people in the family who are not on the Internet, and they rely heavily on phone communication, then that needs to be built into the process as well,” he adds.
- Make a contact card for each family member including children. Put it in your everyday wallet, purse, briefcase or backpack.
- Identify an out-of-town relative or family friend who can be another contact for your family, especially in the event of an evacuation. Make sure every member of your family knows the emergency contact’s information.
- Make sure every family member has a cellphone, money or a prepaid phone card to use for calls.
- If you have a cellphone, program your “in case of emergency” contact into your phone.
- Teach family members how to use text messaging, which can work around network problems that prevent a phone call from going through.
- Subscribe to alert services. Many communities have systems that send emails or text messages in the event of an emergency.
For more information, listen to the podcast or read the transcript. For more family preparedness tips, visit the Get Ready Parents page on our website.