How will you communicate in an emergency?
By Emily Sorensen
If an emergency were to hit Poway right now, how would you get information? How would you reach your family?
The Poway Neighborhood Emergency Corps held its bimonthly meeting Thursday night, discussing exactly this topic.
Three different aspects of emergency communication were covered last night: how the City of Poway communicates to the public in an emergency, how to use amateur (or ham) radios and two-way radios, and how to make and maintain contact lists to use in emergencies.
The topic of communication was in preparation for the citywide drill the city will be holding sometime next month, where they will test the lines of emergency communication in the city. PNEC will also be participating in the drill, to be held on an unannounced day, where the members will be testing their own emergency communication set-ups.
Jon Canavan, the fire division chief, and Eric Heidemann from the city manager’s office, who serves as information manager for the city, led a discussion on how the city can communicate to the public in a large-scale emergency situation.
One way the city communicates in an emergency is through the website. Heidemann is the content manager for the city’s website, and said he will keep it updated with important information during an emergency. But what if your power is out, or you don’t own a computer? The city has a number of other ways to send information out.
If you have a landline home phone, Canavan explained that the city can send out reverse 911 calls to all land-lines in the geographic area, which will give information such as who needs to evacuate and where, what the emergency is and any precautions you need to take. Canavan also suggested that everyone who has a landline should purchase an old-fashioned phone that plugs into a jack and doesn’t require electricity somewhere in their house, as you will still be able to receive emergency calls in case of a power outage.
Another good idea is to register your home phone number and your cell phone will AlertSanDiego (www.ReadySanDiego.org). This is a service that allows select people in Poway, Canavan included, to send out emergency notifications to all registered numbers in Poway, or to specific geographic locations. This allows you to receive targeted emergency information, such as evacuation notices that can otherwise be missed if, for example, you don’t have a land-line and don’t receive a reverse 911 call. These sometimes come as text messages on cellphones, so it is important to learn how to receive and send text messages if you don’t know how. Text messages can usually still be used even if phone calls are not due to downed or overloaded broadcast towers.
The city also uses the 600 AM radio station to broadcast information in an emergency. Canavan suggested buying a crank-powered radio to use in case of a power outage, which along with your charged cellphone will allow you to receive important news from the City of Poway.
Bart Tuttle, Steve Sprigg and Scott Fazekas gave another lecture on the use of amateur (or ham) radios and two-way radios/walkie-talkies during an emergency. These are often very useful for communicating when other methods of communication are unavailable due to power outage or overloading of the cell phone broadcast towers.
Tuttle suggested the use of two-way radios, or walkie-talkies, to communicate in emergencies. Two-way radios are useful for short-distance communication, as long as nothing like a hill or mountain is in the way (some claim to reach up to 36 miles, but two-way radios rely on line of sight, which is more difficult in a place as hilly as Poway). Still, they can be useful for communicating around your neighborhood, in case it is too dangerous to go out or you are unable to due to injury or destruction.
Unlike cell phones, two-way radios don’t rely on broadcast towers, and as long as you keep them charged and practice using them, they can be very useful in an emergency. Tuttle and Sprigg suggested that if your neighborhood plans to use two-way radios for emergency communication, plan ahead for what frequency to use.
Tuttle, Sprigg and Fazekas also spoke about amateur, or ham, radios. These are not as easy to use as two-way, as amateur radios require a license to speak (listening, however, is available to anyone with a ham radio, and in times of extreme emergency, when no other methods of communication are available, anyone can speak over ham radio frequencies to ask for assistance). Amateur radio equipment is more expensive and needs more maintenance and training to use than two-way radios, but also can reach farther away, and can be used to communicate with more people.
Finally, Merrilee Boyack gave a presentation on how to prepare emergency contacts. One of the first thing she recommended was to program an ICE (In Case of Emergency) contact into your cellphone, by labelling it “ICE (person’s name).” This is the person you would want to be called if you are in an accident. According to Boyack, paramedics look for this contact if you are unconscious and they find your phone.
Boyack also suggested a number of items you should keep handy in case of emergency, including extra batteries, prepaid phone cards, and a solar-powered or crank-powered cellphone charger, which you must use regularly to keep in working order. You should also call your phone provider and learn how to set up call forwarding on your landline, so if you need to evacuate you can still receive important phone calls. You should also practice call forwarding regularly, to make sure you can do it quickly in an emergency situation.
Everyone should also prepare emergency contact lists and way to contact many people in an emergency. Boyack said to form an email list for family, so a mass email can be sent out in an emergency, detailing your status and any evacuation plans. You should also form a Facebook group with your family members, so as to have another way to communicate with them in case of emergency. Boyack also suggested making Twitter accounts for the whole family, as yet another back-up way to reach everyone.
Most importantly, Boyack said, was to practice these forms of communication, and agree with your family which one will be used in an emergency.
You should also create a contact sheet, with the phone numbers and information (including name, date of birth, Social Security number, email, address, and more) of all immediate and extended family. This is especially necessary in case your cell phone battery dies, or your phone is damaged.
You should also make sure you have the contact information for your doctors, veterinarians and insurance agents, as well as an out-of-state contact. Boyack said to note down pick-up locations for school and work, and to make plans in case of evacuation on many levels: inside and outside the neighborhood, outside the city, outside the county and even outside the state. Twice a year, review these evacuation plans and practice them, as well as updating your contact information.
The next meeting will be held in November and will feature an in-depth lecture on sheltering in place. Due to the depth of the topic and the amount of information to be discussed, the November meeting will be around two hours long.
For more information, visit www.PowayNEC.com.
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