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South County ARES
Preparing for an Emergency

There's more to being prepared for an emergency than just having the right supplies on hand. Any emergency brings with it lots of stress and anxiety. Much of this stress can come just from "not knowing" how those you care about are doing or from not being able to let your loved ones know how you are doing. Anxiety often increases when large distances are involved making it virtually impossible to find out "what's going on". Making advance plans for emergency communications as well as supplies can help reduce stress and anxiety when a major disaster strikes. This page gives you some suggestions for what you can do right now to prepare for contacting loved ones during an emergency:

  1. Arrange with out-of-state friends or relatives to act as "message contacts".
  2. Find out the names of Amateur Radio Operators in your area.
  3. Find out the names of Amateur Radio Operators in your family's area.
  4. Ask your local chapter of the American Red Cross for their policy and procedures concerning "health and welfare" traffic (messages).
  5. Talk to family members and agree on a plan for exchanging messages with each other; make sure everyone is clear on what to expect.
  6. Be realistic about what can be done during the first 72 hours immediately following a major disaster.

Select A Message Contact

In the event of a major disaster, normal modes of communication (mainly the telephone) are either inoperable or available only for emergency use. Most of us have heard the admonition to leave the telephone lines clear so emergency calls can get through and to not call in to a disaster-stricken area to check on friends and family. In-coming calls to a disaster area may actually be blocked, but out-going calls may not be. Under certain circumstances, you may be able to get access to long-distance service in order to call out of the area experiencing the emergency.

Ask an out-of-state friend or relative if he/she would be willing to be an emergency contact point for you and your family: You could return the favor in case of an emergency in his/her area. Set it up so that everyone concerned about you knows the name and number of the out-of-state contact. During the emergency, call your out-of-state contact to give them a brief message about your status. Include information about other local family members if you know it. Things to include would be:

  1. Physical status
  2. Where you are staying
  3. How to reach you in case of family emergency
  4. The next time you will try to make contact

It would be helpful if your out-of-state contact has an answering machine so you can leave the message even if no one is at home. You will not have to tie up the phone line again making additional calls just to get the message to them. Once the contact has your information, other friends and family can call the contact to find out how you are doing. Have out-of-state family members set up their own message contacts in case of an emergency in their area so you can find out about them if they experience a major disaster. But what do you do if the telephones don't work at all?

Amateur Radio

A very good back-up mode of communication is Amateur Radio. For decades, Amateur Radio operators have provided back-up communication during times of disaster, often relaying messages over long distances. Take the time now to find out who the Amateur Radio operators are in your area and then find which ones are capable of transmitting outside of your area. It is also a good idea to find out the names of Amateur Operators in your message contact's area. Then, during an emergency, you may be able to have your message relayed across country to an Amateur Radio operator who lives within local calling distance to your message contact. Once they get your message, they can call your contact to give them the information.

Conversely, Amateur Radio operators may be able to transmit a request for information into the affected area. During a major emergency, Ham groups set up emergency "nets" to handle incoming and outgoing emergency traffic, so they would not be too difficult to find and contact.

So how do you go about finding Amateur Radio operators in your area? Since you're reading this Web page, contacts for the southern part of San Mateo county are just a click away! Contact the Emergency Coordinators listed for the city of interest and that person will help get names of Amateur Operators near you. They can also help you get information about contacting Amateurs in any Bay area city or you can contact the Pacific Division of ARRL . You'll find many Amateur Radio clubs and Emergency Service groups from around the country listed on our page of Links to Other Amateur Radio Web Pages. Finally, you can contact ARRL (American Radio Relay League) headquarters by phone or US Mail to request the information. The postal address and phone number is

225 Main Street
Newington, Ct. 06111-1494

Ask for the Emergency Coordinator for the area you are concerned about. ARRL can give you that information complete with phone number. Share the information with your family and your out-of-state message contact.

Contact the American Red Cross

Your local chapter of the American Red Cross can give you policy and procedure information about handling health and welfare messages, locally and nationwide.

The first 72 hours

A word of caution: in a major disaster, health and welfare traffic will not be handled until after the emergency has cooled down. Emergency communications are first dedicated to handling messages for life-threatening situations and then those for property loss. The traffic pace is very hectic and the volume of traffic is great. Health and welfare messages are given lower priority and probably won't be handled until after the first 72 hours.

Because of these factors, it's important that you discuss with your family realistic expecations about how soon you will be able to make contact with them, either directly or through your message contact. At a time when it is most difficult, it will be most important to be patient and not panic.

Links to Emergency Preparedness Information

Note: SCARES provides these links for your convenience. No endorsement or recommendation of any service is implied.

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