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Preparedness For Procrastinators: Where do I go in an emergency?

◆ Step 5, Practice your plan.

Let me talk about another issue that’s prevalent before emergencies happen. Denial.

Last time we talked about putting together your communication plan. Now that you’ve done that: made copies for all the members of your household and discussed it––it’s time to practice!

Before I go into that, I have a story to tell you that might help understand why it’s important to practice, even though your practice will lack some real-life, 3-D urgency.

A few years ago, I was involved in a training with EMT services in Provo, UT. I’ve been a professional whitewater guide for nearly 50 years, so I’ve seen a fair number of incidents and emergencies in real life out on the rivers. I figured I knew my stuff.

As part of the Wilderness First Responder training, the EMTs set up a scenario where a group of us whitewater guides were to walk outside of the building and treat several mock casualties, ranging from minor to major. My initial thought was, “What a complete waste of time! We all know this isn’t real. We won’t really learn anything from this hokey drill.”
Boy was I wrong!

When we went outside and came on the scene, some mock injuries were more severe than others. Which did we treat first? Who was in charge of triage and deciding who treated which victim? All kinds of organizational problems became clear immediately that we hadn’t considered because we had never been in a situation quite like this before.

In short, I learned you can never practice too much for an emergency scenario, and it always helps to debrief and discuss how you can do better in a similar situation in the future.

Let me talk about another issue that’s prevalent before emergencies happen. Denial. As a former principal of two elementary schools, I made sure we practiced for a variety of safety scenarios. First in importance was that of an active shooter entering the building and killing people.

Because I had researched a lot about these types of crises and did training myself on how to cope with them, I knew realistically the odds of it happening at “my school” were incredibly small. And the truth is, now that I’m retired, it never happened. At any school where I worked, we never had an active shooter, and I knew statistically that was the most likely outcome.
We trained anyway.

I’d much rather gamble on being prepared––and not need the preparation, than not prepare and desperately wish I had later.

With that in mind, here are some ideas for practicing your plan: especially if you have some younger family members. Practice texting and calling. Have each person practice sending a text message or calling your out-of-town contact and sending a group text to your mobile.

Remember, texts are more likely to get through in an emergency than a phone call.

Discuss what information you should send by text. You will want to let others know you are safe and where you are. Brief messages like “I’m OK. At library” are good.

Who will be the lead person to send out information about the designated meeting place for the household? Practice gathering all household members at your indoor and neighborhood emergency meeting places.

Here’s an example: let’s say you’ve chosen a church as your gathering point and there is an emergency. You get there on a winter day and the door is locked. What do you do then? What should a small child do then?
That said, you can “what-if” any scenario to death. Try to think through the basics of what to do and have that much of a plan. No doubt we’d all have to improvise some on any plan, no matter how well developed. Sometimes, maybe often, life doesn’t conform neatly to our plans.

Talk about how each person would get to the identified out-of-neighborhood and out-of-town meeting places, if those are part of your plan. Discuss all ways of transportation for all family members, including people with disabilities and older family with specific functional needs.

Regularly have conversations with household members and friends about the plan, such as whom and how to text or call, and where to go. A little practice and repetition always helps reinforce what you’re learning.
To show why it’s important to keep phone numbers written, challenge your household members to recite important phone numbers from memory. Would they, or you be able to do that in an emergency?

Make sure everyone, including children, knows how and when to call 911 for help. You should only call 911 when there is a life-threatening emergency.

Review, update, and practice your Family Emergency Communication Plan at least once a year, perhaps also whenever any of your information changes. If you make updates, remember to print new copies of the plan for everyone. As a reminder, www.ready gov.plan has some impressive documents and ideas to help support your preparedness .

FEMA put out this short video that gives a sense of what several people experienced during a heavy storm, a tornado and fires. It’s a little heavy to watch, but I highly recommend it if you lack motivation to prepare. (Youtube: “It Started Like Any Other Day.”)

I’ll end with this: practice doesn’t make perfect, but it makes things a lot better. We’ll be back next week with information about putting together a preparedness kit.

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