In the middle of a quiet day in the lecture hall of a Midwestern university, the silence was pierced by a hail of gunfire. Students dashed out of the room and ducked under tables. Those who couldn’t move, tried to make themselves as invisible as possible until help arrived.
That day at Northern Illinois University, five students lost their lives and many others were injured. As the police and security struggled to control the situation, a few people were able to find out what was happening, in real time. They were the only ones fortunate enough to know that their children or classmates had survived.
On September 11th 2001, in mere seconds, the world as we knew it plunged into utter chaos. More so, for the people who worked in and around the World Trade Center. Electricity and telephone service was gone and communications were rendered unusable, cutting victims off from the rest of the world. But a few people were able to reach their loved ones, some for the last time, others to reconnect with them exactly as planned, once they made it back out into undamaged sections of Manhattan.
What made the difference between the parents and friends at NIU who remained connected with their students and the majority who did not? Or the difference between the World Trade Center workers who were able to connect with their loved ones immediately versus those who spent hours or days wondering if the people they loved were still alive?
One Simple Word – Communication
At the sites of both shocking, unexpected tragedies, communication made the difference. Some communication was improvised genius and other, the result of careful, thoughtful preparation. No matter how those connections were born, you can easily tailor the lessons learned from those tragedies, to keep your own family in constant communication, no matter what happens.
The NIU Shootings – Facebook and Twitter to the Rescue
So how did some parents and friends have a real time view of the NIU tragedy? Facebook and Twitter! As unbelievable as it sounds, students ingeniously found a way to use their favorite method of keeping in touch with friends, as a tool to connect to the outside world in time of crisis.
Students caught under desks and tables grabbed their smart phones and started communicating. Tweets went out on Twitter, notes and messages went up on Facebook pages. Messages told friends and family that the students who were literally in the thick of things, were all right. Others told loved ones or security officers, where trapped students were located, facilitating their rescue. Friends started texting each other to find out where everyone was and in the hours that followed, created Facebook pages memorializing the fallen.
It was an amazing display of people, used to being in touch with friends 24/7, using that same technology to communicate, connect, survive and heal.
Smart phones, cell phones and notebook computers are a GREAT way to stay in touch during an emergency. Whether you send a simple email or text, or send tweets or post to each other’s Facebook walls, in seconds you can find out the location of everyone you love, discover if they’re all right, or need help, and even mobilize family and friends to be at the side of the ill or injured. In a dire emergency you can even confirm or update emergency plans like meeting places, using real time information.
Most importantly technology can bring your loved ones together, just when you need each other the most. That was demonstrated in the 7.0 earthquake in Haiti. Nothing could have prepared Port-au-Prince for that level of devastation.
This is what CNN has to say about it: “Limited communications hampered reporting of casualties and destruction. But the quake had reportedly brought down The Hotel Montana, popular with foreigners visiting Port-au-Prince. French Minister of Cooperation Alain Joyandet expressed concern Wednesday for the approximately 200 French tourists staying there. Night fell a few hours after the earthquake reduced buildings as grand as the National Palace to rubble and knocked down phone and power lines. “Communication with people in Haiti was, at best, sketchy and achieved mainly through social networking sites such as Twitter and YouTube and via Internet phone.”
The same thing organically began to happen after the recent gas explosion in San Bruno and during the wildfires in Colorado. People who were jarred from their homes, in many cases with nothing on them but a cell phone, began to get in touch with loved ones, neighbors and emergency personnel with the only thing they had – social media. In fact natural disaster experts at San Diego State University held a week-long fake disaster drill, using Twitter as the linchpin communications system, just to see how it would work as a disaster application.
Not only are Twitter and Facebook already the go-to communications devices for people worldwide who need to get vital information out or answers in to their location quickly and easily, but experts hope to study how those applications, especially Twitter would function in a real-world emergency. If it works as well as they think it will, more and more logistical updates, emergency notifications and critical decisions by disaster personnel may be conducted via social media.
But what does that mean for your family? In the last few years, the world has changed dramatically. There are tools and resources available to you and your family that you were unimaginable in the last decade. Now it’s time to put them to work for you.
How Can Your Family Use Technology In An Emergency?
The first step is to make sure that each family member has everyone’s email, text, user names and cell numbers on their cell or smart phone. When you’re putting together your family’s emergency plan, be sure to list everyone’s information right in the plan. Our newest book/programs The Backup Plan 3.0 and Keep This Book In Your iPhone, come with specially designed action plans to capture all of this information.
Once you’ve gathered all the information, give each family member has a copy. Their “homework” will be to enter a contact for each family member, into their own cell phone or smart phone. We showed you how to do this in a past blog, but if you missed it, you can find it at this link.
You would be surprised how many people have entries for every friend and colleague they’ve had since camp, only to be missing the most vital information for members of their own family! I guess we just always assume that the people we love most, will be standing right next to us, the moment a disaster strikes. But this exercise will ensure that even if they aren’t right next to you, that you’ll be reunited as quickly as humanly possible.
When your action plan is complete, discuss it with your family. Before you sit down with them, come up with some sample scenarios, for example, if a disaster were to happen while your family members were at work, at school or running errands during a normal day. How would you connect with each other? Do you all text, or would calling be faster? If you have teens or young adults at home, their natural proclivity may be to send out a tweet on twitter, to update everyone they know on their location or situation. Don’t forget twitter can also be used to send personal messages, so you don’t have to worry about broadcasting your personal business for the entire world to read.
Suppose cell phones were out, but electricity was working. Or vice versa. The best way to plan, is to give yourselves as many ways as possible to stay connected. Then if one or two normal methods are unusable, you’ll all simply turn to a different method to reach each other. Another idea is to create a Family Emergency Code or Word. This is a code or word that only you and your immediate family know. When a family member says it, texts it or emails it to the rest of the family, it signals that they’re in trouble or need help immediately. It’s only to be used in extreme emergency and means that everyone needs to drop what they’re doing and establish contact immediately.
And remember that it’s not just the contact names but the contacts themselves, who can save your life or provide lifesaving information in an emergency.
Recently there was a fire in our neighborhood, which began on the 32nd floor of a high rise condo building. It was 1 am on one of the coldest nights of the year. The electricity, elevators and regular phone service were cut off. One woman, not only afraid for herself, but for the ninety year old couple she cared for, who sat huddled nearby. The apartment was quickly filling with smoke. The problem was, the caregiver had no idea where the fire was. She picked up her cell phone and called her husband who was in a different state. He got on the internet, found live local news coverage and was able to tell her what floor the fire was on and that the fire department was on the scene. She knew she would be safe for the time being, and was able to wait until the firefighters knocked on their door to lead her and the couple to safety.
The moral of the story is, you need to have as many connectivity options available to you as possible.
You never know which one might save your life.
Have Fun Getting Your Stuff Together! We’ll talk later…
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