– mom dad somethings going on at school

– Hey kiddo what’s up?
– helloooooo txt me back please….

– hey something happened, I need you to call me

– Dad where r u?

– DAD!!!!

– I TRIED CALLING WHERE ARE YOU!
:Network not responding, please try again
:Network not responding, please try again
:Network not responding, please try again

Feel that?  That’s your heart pounding in your chest.  That feeling of panic and helplessness can destroy your ability to think clearly and critically, and completely ruin your chances of taking the correct action for the circumstances.  Unless you’ve rehearsed this before…..

Why do most of us watch tragic events unfold before our very eyes on TV and the Internet but never take action as if it were going to happen to us?  Many of us will jump in and help out, donate money, blood, or goods.  But we have a certain detachment from the event like it could never happen to us.  Or, if you were poll those people that train with us, you’ll likely discover a group of citizens that believe it could happen to any of them at any time, but don’t let that possibility absolutely run their lives.  If that’s you, then you have 3 choices as I see it…1) Close your eyes and ignore it.  Odds are you’ll make it through life without having to deal with it anyway.  2) Pack up your stuff, sell the house and cars, and live in some Conex boxes buried in the hills hunting rabbits for food and throwing hatchets at trees for self defense practice.  Or 3) Go on with life, but make some practical choices to plan and prepare for some unknown emergency as best you can without disrupting your lives too much.

You can’t plan for every contingency, but you can plan a few courses of action to help you deal with almost any emergency.  There are thousands of suggestions on keeping some food and water available for emergencies,  I’m not going to go down that path.  What I’m asking you is this…do you have a plan to find your family if you are separated and without communications?  After a terrorist attack of some kind, one of the very first things you can be assured will happen is that all cell phone service will go out in that area.  Often (especially in the Middle East) it’s in attempt to disable any other potential explosive devices from being detonated by cell phone (a common and simple method) and to free up bandwidth for emergency services. (note: this may or may not have been the case in Boston). Even if the authorities don’t intentionally cut service, the elevated use of phones in a concentrated area will certainly overwhelm the network.  We’ve seen that happening quite often at large sporting events, fairs and other large gatherings even without a trigger. That means that if you are not with your family when it happens, you will NOT be in contact for some time afterwards, especially if you don’t have a land line at home.  Given the tragic events unfolding in Boston this very moment, it’s a good time to look at what you’ve planned for in an event like this, and if you haven’t got a plan, to get on it NOW.

First thing first: Immediate Communications
Get a hold of as many land line numbers that you can.  Here are the top 4:

  1. Your child’s school
  2. Local hospitals
  3. Police and Fire
  4. Friends and neighbors.

Program them in your phone at the very least, most cell phones can store multiple numbers for the same contact.  Now at least you all have phone numbers to call that might still work.  In the emergency and you can’t reach your child on their cell phone, you just might be put at ease when you call the schools land line and someone answers the phone and informs you the school is on ‘ lock-down’ and all children are safe.  You can continue to try using your cell phone, but it’s suggested that you send texts.  They get through clogged networks better.  Type a text with information or directions in it and keep trying to send it every now and then.  Change the text message as your location or destination changes.
EXTRA CREDIT: To be extra cautious, print it and laminate it and keep it in your wallet, purse, and children’s bags and include cell phone numbers as well, in case cell phones fail completely and you cant get at your contacts list. Most people with cell phones don’t have their own family’s phone numbers committed to memory because we rely on our technology to do it for us.

Next step: Location, Location, Location.
Set up a small network of meeting places between school, work, home.  There only needs to be a few.  Make them easy to remember and easy to find under stress, like a friend’s house that you visit often with your family, another family members house, or a favorite restaurant or store.  Try to avoid places that masses of people will gravitate towards in an emergency, like police stations, fire stations, malls and supermarkets.  Choose them logically in paths of safe travel so they can be visited in order in either direction.
EXTRA CREDIT: You can also map out logical routs to take to those locations to minimize the chance of passing by and missing each other between meeting spots. Of course in some emergencies some routs might not be passable safely, but in most cases they will and its possible that it can reunite you much, much faster.

Lastly, along with Location you must have: Non-direct Communication
This is a key step and not to be skipped!  The effectiveness of the location planning is greatly reduced if you have no way of communicating where you are, WHERE YOU’VE BEEN, or WHERE YOU’RE GOING!  Where you’ve been and where you’re headed next might already be taken care of it you’ve laid out your way-points in order.  It’s easier than you think if you put even a little bit of thought into it.
Basically you want 4 things, they are:

  1. A unique drawing or Symbol that can easily be spotted but doesn’t draw too much attention to it, where you can then locate your full message nearby
  2. A unique symbol or name for each of you that acts as your signatures saying that you were there
  3. A date and time stamp code will help if for no other reason than to provide hope and calm in a time of high duress.  But it can also help determine the next course of action.
  4. A unique symbol or name of where you are headed next.  Include a symbol for ‘headed there next’ and a symbol for ‘came from there’ in your code.

It might look something like this: (large drawing indicating message nearby) Ninja+Hero+Bean  4/15-1730  to Base from IceCream.
This would mean to a kid “Mom and Dad and the baby were here on April 15th at 5:30pm and are headed home from the snack shop” You’d then leave a message at home if you were moving on as well.  I wouldn’t use terms like “Mom & Dad” or “home” because as we’ve seen during 9/11, there were thousands of messages left in a very geographically minute area.  You need something that when strung together means something to only your family. (also good for security reasons!)
Use spray paint if you can, but a half a dozen thick permanent markers in different colors is easy to put in your bug out bag!  NOTE: If it’s safe and you have the resources, you need to have someone remain at home, the most logical place your child will be taken by relatives or emergency services personnel.
EXTRA CREDIT: If you have the resources and time, you could leave one group to wait for a predetermined time at one location, (say 1-hour) while the other group heads to the next location.  Then leap frog down the line so you are always contacting each other at every way-point   The group that just arrived rests and waits for 1-hour and the rested group continues.
MORE EXTRA CREDIT: If you choose your meeting points carefully, you could pre-determine a hiding place to stash some supplies for your loved ones.  Or you might be able to include in your code a place nearby that you’ve hidden some supplies.  RiverNorth could mean the nearest storm drain to the north of your message has some supplies hidden in it.

These are ideas only, but the template is here all spelled out for you.  Take the next step and make the plan and present it to your family.  Spend an hour driving your rout with your family pointing things out.  Or for EXTRA CREDIT make it a hiking or biking trip on a sunny weekend.  The bottom line is to plan something BEFORE you have to use it, and then pray you never have to.

(Credit also to Matt E. from Blue Umbrella and John W. from CBL training and consulting for some of this information).