In an emergency, everything becomes local. You see an accident or a fire, get an alert from Watch Duty, get a Zone Haven evacuation notification, a ranger finds you with a warning about a nearby fire. How do you quickly tell your neighbors? Or something bad has happened and you need to know if people are ok, need help or are missing? How best to do that?
The key challenge in an emergency is that people are scattered, some at home, some at work or school, some traveling. And you don’t know which possible ways of reaching people will work. So you will need to try a couple of ways of reaching people. Key here is, things have to be simple so that people remember them, because anyone in the neighborhood may find themselves in this role.
NOTIFYING THE NEIGHBORS
To start we need a neighborhood directory, so we know who to contact and how. Here are the possible approaches:
- Email - You can make a google or groups.io list for your neighborhood from the email addresses you have. This is reliable, but slow because many people don’t always check their emails promptly. And people may or may not have working internet.
- Text Messages - People love this because they text all the time. BUT – Cell phones are unreliable in a disaster, because the batteries in the towers fail after 24 hours and the land lines feeding the towers may be down. It’s also very difficult to handle the mix of iPhones and Android phones. Managing a text list with both kinds of phones for more than a dozen or so people is very hard, and it requires tracking what kind of phone people have.
- WhatsApp Group - WhatsApp is commonly used globally in disaster response. It’s a texting approach that’s more robust than regular text messages and works with any kind of device. It does require working internet. This is vastly easier to manage than pure text messages, and a lot of people are already comfortable with this approach.
- Phone Tree - Traditionally, people would organize in groups with designated leads to call all the home phones in their group. The problem with this is that land lines are going away, and the weak link is the risk that the appointed group leads can themselves be unreachable.
- GMRS/MURS Radio - Low-power radio is a great way of talking to the neighbors, if they have radios, and they’re on. SSEPO provides grants to get these radios, and they have to be easy to learn and use.
- Build email and WhatsApp lists. Try those first.
- If you have GMRS radios try those.
- If that doesn’t work, ask neighbors you can get a hold of to physically visit their neighbors, or try to phone or text them.
- If you are doing a welfare check, as opposed to just sending information, use a copy of the directory to check people off as you get a hold of them.
CALLING FOR HELP
If your neighborhood needs to report casualties or missing people, you have a couple of options:
- Build your directory.
- Create mailing and text lists.
- Get GMRS radios and practice using them.
- Identify the HAM radio operators in your neighborhood.
- Join the regular regional drills to practice doing all of this.