9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Am I Ready for the Big One? Personal Preparedness Tips for Telecommunicators

Taken from Public Safety Communications Magazine, May 2010
Written by Barbara Graham, assistant chief operator for the Missouri State Highway Patrol. She has been a trainer with the agency for ten years. She is an APCO certified instructor and has taught at APCO and NENA conferences in Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa.

I've been in law enforcement for 32 years. Thirty-one of those years have been in communications, working the console on a daily basis. I've seen many, many changes over the years. Gone are the manual typewriters, the ticker tape machines, the rotary dial telephones. The radio console in use when I started is currently in the Patrol's museum, along with the old ticker tape machine. In fact, hanging above the console is a picture of me working, so I can truly say I am a museum piece. I have seen and continue to see dramatic changes in technology. So much so, it's hard to comprehend.

One recent change is all the talk about interoperability. Did someone just make that word up? I tried to research this in a 1988 edition of Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, in our comm center. Guess what? I couldn't find it. Don't get me wrong, I understand where the word came from. The attacks on America on Sept. 11, 2001, changed our whole lives, especially our lives working in a public safety communications center.

There has been so much talk about readiness in the comm center in the past several years. We have backup phone systems, backup generators, even backup comm centers. What about backup telecommunicators? I wanted to know, "What about me?" What if I were the one working (stuck) in the comm center when something big happens? Is there anything out there to prepare me?

I tried to research communications preparedness. I got plenty of responses on comm center preparedness. APCO and NENA have many articles about how to keep your comm center prepared - what type of equipment is available and suggested. But I found nothing about the telecommunicator's preparedness. So I contacted several Telecommunicator Emergency Response Teams (TERT) and got some recommendations as to what telecommunicators should have ready in case of deployment. I finally found most of the information I wanted from the Florida, Missouri and Alaska emergency manuals. I'd like to share my findings with other telecommunicators.

What If....?
The most important step is to talk about the "what ifs" with your family. What if you're "stuck" working when the hurricane, the ice storm, the blizzard or the tornado hits, or the terrorist attacks (heaven forbid)? Have you discussed what plan of action you and your family should take? Do you have a plan as to how the kids will be picked up at school or day care? Do you have a plan if your house is damaged? Where should your family go, or what should they do while you're at work? The best plan of action is to talk with your spouse, your children, even your parents or neighbors about what to do in the event of an emergency.

Write a family emergency plan. List ICE (in case of emergency) numbers in your cell phone. Keep all phone numbers in an accessible place where they can be located in the event of an emergency. Keep a list of family members' names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers and important medical information. This may sound silly, but if the family is separated, this information is invaluable. Most of us know our own information and possibly our spouse's, but do you know all of your children's Social Security numbers?

Make a list of your out-of-town contacts, including names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses. You may need to contact out-of-town friends and family members. Do you know their information off the top of your head?

Keep a list of important information you may need in the near future: doctor's names and phone numbers, pharmacist names and phone numbers, medical insurance policy numbers, homeowner's insurance policy numbers.

Make copies of birth certificates and other important information. Keep important documents protected. Consider keeping this information in a folder at your work or protected in your emergency list.

Develop a plan that addresses the possibility that your family might not be home together when an emergency arises. In this day and age, our families are scattered. School, work and church activities keep us on the move and rarely at home all at the same time. Discuss a plan the entire family knows and understands. How will you reach each other? Depending on the emergency situation, you may not have phone contact with each other. You may not be able to use your cell phone to call each other, but you may be able to text each other. Consider having a plan to contact a family friend of an out-of-town family member. Make sure everyone in your family knows who this is and that you're all on the same page. Consider having a neighborhood meeting place or a regional meeting place. Do you have children in schools or day-care facilities? How will you reach them? Is there a plan in place at the school or day-care facility if you can't get there? Do you know the evacuation locations in your area? Find out, and make sure your family knows. The better prepared your family is, the better your family will be able to face an emergency situation.

Shelter at Home
Include two scenarios in your family plan: one for home and a second one if you should have to evacuate. You may not have a choice in this decision; officials may order you to leave. You can prepare a shelter at home, and you can also prepare a "go kit" if you have to leave your home. Remember, you could be at work when your family must face these decisions without you. It will make it easier for them if they know exactly what to do. Remind them to use common sense and stay calm.

If you must shelter at home, choose the most secure room in your house. Select a room with few windows or doors. The room should be large enough for the whole family, including pets. Keep the exterior doors locked. Remember to also have your emergency supplies in this room, along with a television or a battery-powered radio to listen for updated information.

Remember, during an emergency, the electricity may not be working. You may not be able to get food or water. Have three days' worth of food and fresh water. Remember to have at least one gallon of water for each individual for each day. If room is available, try to store two weeks' worth of water for each person.

Other items you should have in your shelter are flashlights, a radio, extra batteries, prescription medicine, first aid kit, blankets, clothing, cash, eating utensils, duct tape, heavy-duty plastic bags, matches, paper, pencil, needle, thread, toilet paper, liquid detergent, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deoderant, bleach, plastic bucket with tight lid, disinfectant and a whistle to signal for help. Don't forget the cash. ATMs don't work without power.

Go Kits
Find a tote bag or a backpack, and put together a go kit. The kit can be kept at home, in the car or at work. You'll need some of the same items you have in your shelter: a gallon of water per person, several cans of food or dried foods, manual can opener, flashlight, extra batteries, blankets or sleeping bag, first aid supplies, extra money and personal hygiene items.

I brought a big plastic tub into work and encourage my co-workers to bring in non-perishable food items, such as canned soup, oatmeal, tuna, peanut butter, etc. to have on hand in case of an emergency. If we're out of electricity, that means our snack machines won't work and we'll need something to eat.

Here are some suggestions of what to have on hand in case you're the one who's stuck behind the console when the big one hits - whichever the big one is:
  • Medication and copies of prescription;
  • Nonperishable food items;
  • Water - 1 gallon per person per day;
  • Personal hygiene items;
  • Complete change of clothes;
  • Eyeglasses/contact solution;
  • Paperwork;
  • First aid kit;
  • Flashlight/batteries;
  • Cell phone charger;
  • Blanket;
  • Bucket with tight fitting lid;
  • Heavy-duty trash bags;
  • Utility knife;
  • Matches/lighter;
  • Small toolkit;
  • Battery-operated radio;
  • Leather/latex gloves;
  • Mess kit;
  • Bleach; and
  • Rope

Final Thoughts

When considering worst-case scenarios for your comm center, don't forget to consider your own preparations. Make a family plan. I also encourage every telecommunicator to start your own go kit to keep in the trunk of your car or in the work storage area.

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