All that’s needed is to watch the news for a few weeks for people to know that crisis can happen with very little warning. Natural disasters – flooding, earthquakes, tornados, and blizzards offer little or no warning for communities, but at the same time, those communities are aware of what natural calamities could befall their town or city. Living in the mountains may mean the possibility of earthquakes or blizzards in the higher elevations. Living near large waterways means the chance of flooding and maybe tsunamis, and of course, the flat areas like Kansas do not refer to themselves as living in Tornado Alley for nothing.
Knowing what is most likely makes it easier to make contingency plans. For government entities establishing a chain of command is vital. These steps need to be taken long before an emergency occurs. Who gets the word out to the public and lets them know what to do, where to go, how to proceed? Having several people in that chain is imperative. There is no telling what time of day or night an emergency can strike and where everyone will be. The first person in the chain who is available becomes the initial spokesperson. That person needs to know the plan of attack, so people are reassured and know what to do. Many steps in a crisis plan may be the same no matter what the crisis.
Where can people find shelter if they’ve been displaced? Schools often become the shelters; if that is the plan, make sure there are blankets and cots for people, especially if the school also becomes the place for emergency medical care. Many communities have annual emergency preparedness fairs that teach about food storage, putting together 72-hour survival kits, getting first aid kits, and helpful ideas that can be established in neighborhoods. Some ideas could include a visual system to let people know everything is okay in the home – or if medical aid might be necessary. Something as simple as a plain white sheet draped over the front door could indicate that all is well, or one with a large red mark in the center could reflect the need for help.
Government organizations don’t always have to establish these plans on their own. They can use other community resources, such as church members who have special skills and can teach classes such as HAM radio operation or first aid. The more people have prepared within their homes and neighborhoods, the less panic is likely to set in.
Returning to the government entity’s chain of command, the use of social media is helpful, the emergency broadcast system established in the U.S. can get information to homes, and for smaller communities, school calling lists or church membership lists can be activated – getting information to leaders in the schools and churches and letting them use their networks to inform the public.
No matter what the crisis — whether it be natural disasters, public health concerns, terrorist threats (local or from other countries) or something else — having a plan for how to get information out to the people and knowing what the community resources are so they can be used in emergencies is information that should put together long before the need arises. What plans are in place in your location?