For most of us, as we start our daily routines, our families split and go their separate ways, whether it’s for work, school or just running daily errands. Have you ever given any thought to how you would get in contact with your loved ones should an emergency arise?
A family reunification plan should be something every family has in place, regardless of the distance that separates you during the day. Information on the emergency situation could be fluid for some time, so getting your family together as soon as reasonably possible is the ultimate goal.
Not all families are alike. Some have small children, others have none and some will have children in three different schools. The environment where families live and work will be different, too. However, urban or rural, big family or small, it does not matter. The reunification plan’s seven elements are universal regardless of family size, type or environment. The elements are evaluate, locate, direct, communicate, practice, execute and survive.
A solid family reunification plan needs to have leadership, disciplined direction and practice to work as it should. Talk with your family as you work out the details of the plan together; involve the older kids as well. If you’re a single parent with young children, the planning and practice is even more crucial. If you have small school-aged children, understand that the school is charged with the physical safety of your children. They will already have shelter-in-place plans as well as evacuation plans. It is very important that you know the school’s plans and incorporate them into your reunification plan.
Evaluate & Locate
An evaluation of the area where each person spends his or her day should be done first. Look at it from a map or internet satellite image, then in person on foot. In each area you should identify possible danger areas to avoid. Avoid densely populated areas if possible. They carry many hazards and could add overwhelming confusion in trying to find your loved ones during an emergency. Walk the area looking for obstacles, both man-made and natural, that could channel your movement and limit your options. Highways, rivers and train tracks are some obstacles to make note of, as they could potentially bottleneck your movement during an emergency.
Locate multiple safe zones where your loved ones could shelter in place as needed. These safe places should also double as rally points or meeting places where you could go to meet up with your loved ones. You may want to have your loved ones shelter in place until they can move to your location or just sit tight and wait for you to arrive. Some good examples of safe zones could be a friend or relative’s home, a church, a restaurant or a local library. These could all be great shelter-in-place or safe zones depending on the type of emergency.
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The best locations should have free WiFi, multiple exits, satellite TV, food and water. If the safe zone is a business and has a board for posting business cards, this could be helpful for communication if your loved one needs to leave the primary safe zone for a secondary safe zone. Include a message card in their survival pack that is recognized by your whole family; they could pin it to the board with a quick note on the back if all other attempts at communication have failed.
Direct your loved ones how to implement the plan. Explain to them exactly what route you want them to take, as well as which safe location you want them to go to and in what order. Tell them where you want them to wait for you.
Everyone in the family should have a small emergency pack with them; it could be stored in their car, a wall locker or somewhere accessible. Each pack should contain at a minimum some cash, a one-day supply of food, water, maps of the area, a wallet-sized card with addresses, phone numbers and radio frequencies for both information and communication. Additional important items like a small first-aid kit, a walkie-talkie, a flashlight, a small AM/FM radio, message cards to leave behind if you have to change safe zones and a lighter should also be in the pack.
Communication equipment in this bag should all be a backup to your smartphone. The best would be a handheld 2-meter-band Ham radio to connect with the local Ham radio repeaters in your area. However, a good pair of recreational walkie-talkies can get the job done as well. Clear two-way radio communication depends a lot on the distance between the two radios, the type of terrain and a line of sight to the distant radio. To avoid radio interference, plan to transmit away from high power lines and built-up urban areas if possible.
It is important to practice and make adjustments. Let your communications plan evolve as you practice, and work through any dead space (an area where radio communications won’t work) in your area. As mentioned before, a small multiband radio receiver to get local news and situational information should be in the bag, too. Attach a note card to the radio showing the frequencies of local news weather and traffic as well.
During an emergency, the time it takes to make your first communication is important. An attempt to communicate should come as early into the emergency as safely possible. Text messages require less bandwidth and have a greater chance of getting through jammed circuits. Your text message should be short: “I’m safe, working the plan now, I love you.” The second message could give more details about the emergency. However, if the cell towers get jammed with traffic, as was the case on September 11, 2001, you at least want the first message to get through. Every cell phone message after that is a gift.
Practice logging into different WiFi hotspots as well. Make contact via email, Facebook or chat apps like WhatsApp. Practice your family reunification plan in three phases: crawl, walk and run. During the crawl phase of practice, go slowly with your loved ones as they walk their designated route to the first safe zone. Take time to point out what dangers you want them to be aware of as you go through the plan. During the walk phase, stay in frequent communication while your loved ones work their part of the plan and you work yours as the leader. Take note of the time it takes everyone to get to all the safe zones.
Lastly, for the run phase, practice in real time both day and night with little or no communications. You will discover problems that will arise and can address them now instead of during a real emergency. See if your loved ones can follow instructions, communicate and make contact with you. Evaluate after each phase and encourage your loved ones on what went right, but be honest and patient in areas that need improvement.
Before an actual emergency, you should decide if you will try to travel to your loved ones or if you want them to come to you or some combination. Ideally, this could be decided during the initial communication as details of the emergency unfold. However, if communications do not happen, everyone already knows to execute the plan you have all been practicing. Even if there is no communication there should be no panic; the plan will still go forward. Practice your plan with emergencies originating from home and from every loved one’s area. After you feel comfortable with your family reunification plan, work on a plan with all areas having a shared emergency and traveling out of the local area to a bug-out or other safe area.
Get Out Alive
When an emergency strikes, execute your family reunification plan with a calm, deliberate purpose. Stay confident and focus on getting your part of the plan complete. Do not let fear and panic set in to cloud your judgment. Stay alert to your environment and any changes to the situation that may arise, affecting your mission.
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Family reunification is second to survival. Survival is the main objective. Don’t rush an unsafe situation just to get your arms around your loved ones. During an emergency, focus on the situation, keep a clear head and keep your emotions under control. Even though you have directed your loved ones to execute the details of your family reunification plan, explain to them that the plan is not an excuse for them not to think during an emergency.
The plan must give your family some measure of flexibility just in case the pre-defined route to the safe location is unsafe or some unforeseen danger arises. Let them know you understand if they need to change the route to the safe locations, but not just on a whim. If you don’t give them this flexibility, you could dull their survival mindset. Your loved ones are not just following instructions, they are surviving.
This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Fall 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.