G-Notes: Planning for Disaster

Down my way, hurricanes are a fact of life. We keep stocks of bottled water and non-perishable foods throughout the hurricane season just in case one should decide to come our way. Our computers are backed up via an online backup service so photos, finances and other files will survive a storm. Important papers and other needed documents are in easy reach should we need to evacuate. Protective hardware is ready to cover windows or secure structures. If a storm even looks like it’s threatening, we keep the gas tanks in both cars topped up. This is second nature to us.

However, emergency planning isn’t just for hurricanes. Folks to our north have faced unusually heavy snow storms and others deal with earthquakes, floods or tornados. We all need to have a plan to deal with disaster and crisis situations. In addition to food, water and medical needs, how will you communicate with your family?

We use Vonage for our phone service and one very useful feature is the ability to assign a mobile number to our account. If something happens to our connection, Vonage will automatically forward any calls to that mobile number. This has been a very useful feature.

Smart phones keep you connected with voice and data. Can yours be used as a hot spot for other devices? As the new 4G cellular service expands, companies like Clearwire are offering both home and mobile WiMAX wireless Internet at an attractive price. They offer a battery-operated Clear Spot device for $99 with $45/month service that will connect up to eight wi-fi devices to the Internet. Rover offers a similar device with a pay-as-you-go service that you can turn on and off when needed. Unfortunately, devices offering both 3G and 4G capability are more expensive – as are their service rates.

In 2004, Hurricane Frances knocked out the power in our neighborhood for a week. We had cell phones, running water and could cook on the camp stove, but not much for entertainment. A book light made evenings much more tolerable. Today’s reading devices offer great battery life. My iPad kept its charge throughout a 12-hour trip to California. Kindles and Nooks have some basic email and Internet functions that can be handy in an emergency. During Frances, I hauled my rechargeable devices to work every day to recharge. Now I also keep mobile chargers – the kind you plug into the car’s cigarette lighter – for both the phone and the iThings. We also have one of those emergency radios that you can crank to recharge.

There are crisis situations like 9-11 or the Tucson and Virginia Tech shootings where you quickly want to know where all your loved ones are. Unfortunately, you’re not the only one, and often the phone and mobile services are overwhelmed by the spike in traffic. Some time back an emergency manager recommended using Twitter in these situations. Often text messages can get through when voice can’t and one text message to Twitter notifies everyone who follows you. Work with family members to develop a plan for status updates during an emergency.

While the food, water and radio part of hurricane/disaster planning have been standard procedure most of my life and are now second nature, the digital side is not. Some parts – like managing important papers – are obvious and have even become easier to manage thanks to online backup. Others – like communication – are constantly changing as technology improves. As a result, we review our plan every year to determine what works and what needs to improve. An earlier conversation about how nice it would be to have a portable wi-fi device for traveling, is now becoming which device/service will support both travel and emergency situations.

Have you reviewed your emergency plan lately?

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