What’s your plan?

It’s been a rough winter for many of us and the spring storms are just getting started. From floods to tornadoes to fires, the wild weather and other disasters can happen at any time. In my part of the world, hurricane season is little over a month away. It’s second nature for me to keep the pantry stocked with canned foods and bottled water, but that’s just one part of my disaster plan.

  • How will you contact family and friends immediately after a disaster?
  • How do you protect your family treasures – photos, letters, heirlooms, artwork, etc.?
  • Do you live in an evacuation area? If so, do you know your evacuation routes?
  • Is your important financial and insurance information somewhere you can get to it after the disaster?
  • Does everyone in your family know what they need to do before, during and after a disaster?
  • Are you prepared to deal with a long-term power outage?

Most disasters don’t give us time to prepare. That’s why it’s important to have a plan in place even when you think there’s little chance you’ll need it. At Ready.gov, you’ll find help for building your disaster plan. Family Tree Magazine has several good articles for family historians on disaster planning and recovery. If you haven’t double-checked your data backup system, now would be a good time. And, an off-site backup system (Mozy or Carbonite) or storage service (Dropbox, MobileMe, Flickr, etc.) can insure those precious photos and documents you’ve digitized aren’t lost in the rubble.

Because it’s always with you, your smartphone could be a good place to keep important contact and account information. Look for an app like 1Password, SplashID or RoboForm that encrypts your data in case your phone is lost or stolen and, make sure you lock down your phone with a secure password if you’re keeping this kind of information on it.

During and after a disaster, communications systems are often damaged or overwhelmed with traffic. If you can’t get a voice call through, try texting. Is your phone set up to post to Twitter? One text message can tell all your followers (your family is following you, right?) that you’re okay. Make plans with your family on who to contact and how during emergencies.

Speaking of Twitter . . . Do your local emergency management agencies use Twitter for updates? If so, follow them. Check to see which local news organizations post weather alerts and other useful information and follow them too. On the Mobile tab in your Twitter settings you can set your phone up to receive tweets only from selected users. Just click the little phone icon on a user’s profile page or your followers page to activate that user. Get familiar with the Twitter commands for use in texting. They could come in handy during an emergency.

Finally, while you’re reviewing and updating your emergency plan, take a minute and hit the donation button at the Salvation Army, Red Cross or your favorite charity to help them help those caught up in this year’s disasters.

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?