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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

COLUMN: Realistic Preparedness Part I: Individual Preparedness

Build a kit.  Have a plan.  Get flood insurance.  All the things we are told to prepare for an emergency can feel quite daunting.  They are smart ideas, for sure.  But money, time, and competing priorities can be imposing obstacles. 

In June 2012 my home joined a million other neighbors in Virginia when we lost power due to the North American derecho that quickly caused deaths, damage, and power outages across several states.  I did not have an organized kit or a written plan.  But I did have a wife, two daughters under the age of two, and a puppy.  We were also facing a heat wave.  As soon as we lost power, I knew I had to get my babies someplace safer and with power.  I grabbed a few flashlights (because I had them with working batteries) and my wife and I packed to leave.  We got in our car (that was full of gas) and went to a nearby hotel (because I had savings and a credit card).  I texted my boss where I was going and about my availability (because the phone was charged, and I knew to text in case phone systems were clogged).  We rode out the rest of the storm safely. 

In the following weeks it occurred to me that I actually did have a kit and a plan.  I just never thought about it before in those structured terms.  I also realized that there are simple and realistic things we can all do to be better prepared.  And today, there are more realistic options than ever before.  Even with money, time, and other priorities, most of these ideas take only seconds or minutes, and cost little to nothing.  They are realistic ways that each of us can be more prepared. 

Free Apps 

I am a huge fan of the FEMA App.  In full disclosure, I used to work for FEMA, but that is not why I like it so much.  In fact, I no longer work for FEMA, but it remains an app on my phone.  It is free and available for both iPhones and Androids.    

My favorite section is the ability to sign up for alert messages for multiple locations.  It only takes a second to enter the zip codes and the alerts you want.  As a result, not only can I protect the family in my home, but I can also warn relatives in New Hampshire, Virginia, and Florida if a hazard is coming their way.   It came in handy when I was able to warn my brother in Aug 2018 of a tornado near his home in Charlottesville, Va.   

In addition, the FEMA App provides life-saving guidance on what to do before, during and after twenty-six different hazards and disasters.   Right at your fingertips.    And should an actual disaster occur in your area the App can tell you if you are in an eligible county and provide locations for shelters and recovery centers.  You can even apply for assistance right on the App. 

The American Red Cross First Aid App is also free and life-saving.  I personally know someone who saved a friend’s life by following the instructions and pictures in the App to put a tourniquet in place.  I am more confident that I can effectively perform CPR by following the simple steps and images.  And those are just two examples among dozens of first-aid instructional visual aids.  This App can also find all of the hospitals near you in one click.  I just tried it and found seven medical facilities within ten miles of my house.  And when you click on one of the medical facilities it turns into the GPS directions.  Those few seconds can save someone’s life.     

Tips and Tricks 

Having been an emergency manager for more than fifteen years, I have learned some realistic tips and tricks that have made me and my family safer.  I mentioned before that texting is more reliable than a phone call.  It can also be faster and more inclusive.  Establishing a family group text chat now is quick and easy.  It will save precious moments when a crisis occurs.   If you haven’t done so already, taking digital photos of essential records ensures they will not get lost and will always be at the ready.  These can include everything from insurance to prescription medicine to pictures of your pets in case you get separated.   

Your smartphone is smart enough to do all of that and more.  It is worth keeping it charged.  And if you have a few extra dollars, invest in a battery operated phone charger.  The calendar on your phone can track countless important dates.  When to change the air conditioner’s filter.  Reviewing your plan and kit on a regular basis.  Changing your smoke alarm batteries.  In less than 60 seconds you can add those dates right now.  Finally, everyone on your family can keep a note on their smartphone with the specific GPS location and alternate location for your rally point.  My girls know to meet at the Starbucks. 

Little to No Cost 

My girls and I do not go a week without visiting one of our local dollar stores.  Sometimes it’s a snack.  Other times maybe a school supply.  It is also where we have purchased almost everything we need on a preparedness kit: flashlights, batteries, candles, lighters, dust mask, wrench, can-opener, whistle, duct tape, water, food, and first aid kit supplies.  I got all of that for less than $20 and it isn’t even a purchase that needs to be made all at once.  I put it all in an old backpack I found in my garage.  Simple.  Inexpensive.  Realistic.  And I sleep better at night. 

I deployed to Puerto Rico immediately after the impact of Hurricane Maria.  I learned the hard way that ATMs will not always work after a disaster.  Lesson learned.  I always keep some cash on me now for an emergency.  Whether the money is in the bank, a safe at home, or in my wallet, it is the same amount of money.  No cost.  Only a realistic way to give me a sense of security. 

Finally, with a little bit of internet searching, you would be surprised by how many free courses there are online, either for you to take at home or ask your employer to provide.  CPR.  Evacuation routes and drills.  Active shooter training.   I was concerned about how my daughters might react to active shooter training at school, so we watched one for free together online at home first.  It felt good to have that discussion together.  More prepared and a proud dad moment.   

Special circumstances 

We all have special circumstances and we do not want to feel alone.  FEMA and Ready.Gov have our back.  They have produced a plethora of preparedness material and checklists for many special circumstances.  They created these with actual input from the audiences they serve.  They include: People with disabilities, Older Adults, Caregivers, Pets and Animals; Kids, Higher Education Campus, Businesses. They have put in the work so we can reap the benefits.  The tools and checklists there make our preparation quick, reassuring, and realistic.   

You may not have a kit or a plan.  Or, like me, you may just not realize that you do.  The ideas presented here are realistic, simple, quick, and affordable. Why not invest a few minutes to make you and your family more prepared. 

Check back next week for Realistic Preparedness Part II: Community Preparedness

Dan Stoneking is the Owner and Principal of Stoneking Strategic Communications and the Author of Cultivate Your Garden: Crisis Communications from 30,000 Feet to Three Feet.   

author avatar
Dan Stoneking
Dan is a strategic communicator. He is a writer. His expertise is born from experience, to include his role at the Pentagon upon the attacks of 9/11; as lead spokesperson for the National Guard in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina where he represented 54 states and territories; responding to the earthquake in Haiti where he helped establish the first-ever international joint information center; creating a coalition with the private sector to implement the first-ever National Business Emergency Operation Center; voluntarily deploying to Puerto Rico within hours of Hurricane Maria’s impact as the lead spokesperson, and much more. Presently, Dan is the Owner and Principal at Stoneking Strategic Communications, LLC. Previously, Dan served as the External Affairs Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region 3, where he led an award-earning passionate team to improve information sharing and coordination between FEMA and the American public, to include media, private sector, as well as local, state and government officials during disaster preparedness, response and recovery efforts. As Director, he led his team through countless disasters, the Papal Visit (2015), the Democratic National Convention (2016), and the response to the Jan 6, 2021, attacks on our Nation’s Capital. That position followed and built upon a career in both the corporate and government arenas focused on strategic and crisis communications, to include roles at FEMA Headquarters as Director, Private Sector and Deputy and Acting Director of Public Affairs. Graduating from the University of New Hampshire, with a Bachelor’s in Interpersonal Communications, he later returned to the same campus and earned a Master of Arts in Teaching (Secondary English). Dan is a retired Army Officer and he taught High School English for two years. He is also the author of Cultivate Your Garden: Crisis Communications from 30,000 Feet to Three Feet, 2024. Dan lives in West Chester, PA with his daughters, Ivy Grace and Chloe Lane and their puppy, Fiji Isabella.
Dan Stoneking
Dan Stoneking
Dan is a strategic communicator. He is a writer. His expertise is born from experience, to include his role at the Pentagon upon the attacks of 9/11; as lead spokesperson for the National Guard in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina where he represented 54 states and territories; responding to the earthquake in Haiti where he helped establish the first-ever international joint information center; creating a coalition with the private sector to implement the first-ever National Business Emergency Operation Center; voluntarily deploying to Puerto Rico within hours of Hurricane Maria’s impact as the lead spokesperson, and much more. Presently, Dan is the Owner and Principal at Stoneking Strategic Communications, LLC. Previously, Dan served as the External Affairs Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region 3, where he led an award-earning passionate team to improve information sharing and coordination between FEMA and the American public, to include media, private sector, as well as local, state and government officials during disaster preparedness, response and recovery efforts. As Director, he led his team through countless disasters, the Papal Visit (2015), the Democratic National Convention (2016), and the response to the Jan 6, 2021, attacks on our Nation’s Capital. That position followed and built upon a career in both the corporate and government arenas focused on strategic and crisis communications, to include roles at FEMA Headquarters as Director, Private Sector and Deputy and Acting Director of Public Affairs. Graduating from the University of New Hampshire, with a Bachelor’s in Interpersonal Communications, he later returned to the same campus and earned a Master of Arts in Teaching (Secondary English). Dan is a retired Army Officer and he taught High School English for two years. He is also the author of Cultivate Your Garden: Crisis Communications from 30,000 Feet to Three Feet, 2024. Dan lives in West Chester, PA with his daughters, Ivy Grace and Chloe Lane and their puppy, Fiji Isabella.

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