Personal and Family Contingency Plans Reply

Do you have a plan? Individuals and families need a contingency plan for disasters and emergency situations. Every family member, including young children, must know the plan.

The Importance of Planning

Those in the vicinity of an attack have the best chance of escaping and reconnecting with loved ones if they have a personal contingency plan.  Sudden disasters, such as tornadoes, earthquakes, school shootings or the derailment of train cars carrying chlorine, can strike anywhere.

Emergency plans are vital not only for corporations and schools, but also for families and individuals. Such plans should be in place for each regular location — home, work and school — that an individual frequents, and should cover what that person will do and where he or she will go should an evacuation be necessary. This means establishing meeting points for family members who might be split up — and backup points in case the first or second point also is affected by the disaster.

The lack of ability to communicate with loved ones because of circuit overload or other phone service problems can greatly enhance the sense of panic during a crisis. Perhaps the most value derived from having personal and family contingency plans is a reduction in the amount of stress that results from not being able to immediately contact a loved one. Knowing that everyone is following the plan frees each person to concentrate on the more pressing issue of evacuation. Additionally, someone who waits until he or she has contacted all loved ones before evacuating might not make it out.

It also is important to have a communication plan, which should include the contact information for the pre-chosen rallying site, as well as an alternate communications hub outside of the area. It might be difficult to communicate from Point A to Point B, but both A and B might be able to get through to a person at Point C. Alternative means of communication also should be included in the communications plan. If the phone lines and cell phones are clogged, many times text messages can still get through and Internet connections will work to send e-mail. The communications plan also will be helpful in case one member of the family is unable to evacuate immediately or finds it unwise to evacuate at all. In that case, he or she will know where the rest of the family is going and how to contact them once communications are restored.

Planning is additionally important because, when confronted with a dire emergency situation, many people simply do not know what to do. Not having determined their options in advance — and in shock over the events of the day — they are unable to think clearly enough to establish a logical plan, and instead wander aimlessly around. Having an established plan in place gives even a person who is in shock or denial and unable to think clearly a framework to lean on and a path to follow.

If You Must Evacuate

One of the keys to surviving a catastrophe is situational awareness (see post on this topic).  This means recognizing the threat at an early stage — and taking measures to avoid it. Another element of situational awareness is to know where to go when an unforeseen disaster strikes. For example, if an improvised explosive device (IED) were to detonate in a subway car ahead of the car you are in, would you know how to get out of your car and in which direction to travel to get to safety? If your office building is hit by an IED or catches fire, do you know where the fire exits are located and where they lead? Could one fire exit take you out of the frying pan and into the fire? Situational awareness also involves knowing how to react. If a subway tunnel is filling with smoke, you must have the situational awareness to keep low in order to avoid being overcome.

In some cases, evacuation might not be the best idea. If there is no immediate threat to you at your current location, you could run a larger risk of being injured by joining the crowd of panicked people on the street. In some cases, it might be safest to just stay in place and wait for order to return — especially if you are in a location where you have emergency stocks of food and water.

If you work in a high-rise building, frequently travel or take a subway, there are a couple of pieces of equipment that can assist you in case the need to evacuate arises. One of these is a smoke hood, a protective device that fits over the head and provides protection from smoke inhalation. Smoke hoods are relatively inexpensive devices that can be carried in a briefcase or purse and quickly donned in case of emergency. They will usually provide around 20-30 minutes of breathing time — which could quite literally mean the difference between life and death in a smoke-filled hallway, stairway or subway tunnel. The second piece of equipment is a flashlight small enough to fit in a pocket, purse or briefcase. Such a light could prove to be invaluable in a crisis situation at night or when the power goes out in a large building or subway. Some of the small aluminum flashlights also can serve as a handy self-defense weapon.

Even if you don’t live in an area which is prone to extreme weather or is a likely terrorist target, it is still prudent to prepare a “GO Bag” kit (knapsack) containing clothes, water, a first-aid kit, nutritional bars, medications and toiletry items for you and your family.  (See post on Go Bags and Emergency Kits).  It also is a good idea to include a battery-powered radio and other useful items, such as multi-tool knives and duct tape. The kit should be kept in convenient place like the trunk of your car, or some other convenient location that makes it easy to grab it on the way out. Even if it is impractical to keep all Emergency Supplies in one place, develop a list to help you collect other items quickly.  You need to be ready to get out the door and “fly away” in seconds.

Your GO Bag knapsack should also contain copies of important documents such as each family member’s drivers license, insurance papers, medicine and eyeglasses prescriptions, passport, birth certificate, vehicle titles, deeds, credit card information, and photos of yourself, and individual photos of each family member and loved one.  Though a paper copy protected by a zip-lock plastic bag is best, some of this (and additional information) can be stored electronically on a thumb drive, CD, or other small media-storage device.

The Need for Flexibility

It is important to listen to authorities in the case of an emergency, though you cannot rely on the government to take care of you in every situation because the resources simply are not there to do so. You must have plans ready to take care of yourself and your family.

If you have pets, you will want to take them into consideration when you make your plans. Will Fluffy be taken to the evacuation site in the case of a dirty bomb attack, or not?

The emergency plan also must be fluid and flexible. It is important to recognize that even a good contingency plan can be worthless if protective measures taken by authorities during an emergency impede execution of the plan, or if the catastrophe itself closes down a section of your route. For example, bridges and tunnels might be closed and streets blocked off or jammed with traffic, meaning you might not be able to travel to safety or pick up family members or coworkers. Those whose plan calls for a flight out of the city might be unable to get to the airport or helipad and, once there, find that air traffic has been grounded, as happened after the 9/11 attacks. For these reasons, it is best to have several alternate contingency plans that account for multiple scenarios and include various evacuation routes. Once the emergency is announced, it likely is too late to start devising a plan.

Plans must be reviewed periodically. A plan made following 9/11 might no longer be valid. Bridges and roads you included might now be closed for construction. If Uncle Al’s place in Texas is your planned bug-out retreat and communications hub, then that needs to change when he moves to West Virginia.

Your equipment should also be checked at least semi-annually to ensure it is functional. Have you checked the batteries in your flashlight and radio? (Batteries should usually be stored separately from your battery-powered device as prolonged storage make cause leakage and render the item unusable).  Has your smoke hood become battered from being carried around for too many years? Have the power bars in your Go Bag knapsack become fossilized?

Finally, while having a contingency plan on paper is better than having nothing, those that are tested in the real world are far superior. Running through an evacuation plan (especially during a high-traffic time such as rush hour) will help to identify weaknesses that will not appear on paper. It also will help to ensure that all those involved know what they are supposed to do and where they are supposed to go. A plan is of limited use if half of the people it is designed for do not understand their respective roles and responsibilities.

No plan is perfect, and chances are you will have to “shift on the fly” and change your plan in the event of an actual emergency. However, having a plan — and being prepared — will allow you to be more focused and less panicked and confused than those who have left their fate to chance. In life and death situations, an ounce of prevention is a good thing.

Contributed by STRATFOR Global Intelligence
Fred Burton and Scott Stewart

Gold, Cash, or Barter? Financial Preparations for Surviving a Disaster Reply

Credit cards will be useless during an emergency that involves the loss of electrical power. Short-term you will need cash, but during an extended emergency you’ll want to have goods to trade.

Credit cards, debit cards, cash machines, money in the bank, checks, having a line of credit, and other electronic-based mechanisms for buying and selling, may be useless during a major disaster.

Banks may be forced to close, and electronic transactions such as using credit cards or debit cards, may also not be operational in an emergency situation.  Further, since modern cash registers require electrical power, even a simple power outage will prompt many stores to close since their cash registers and credit card machines will have stopped working.

Even if the banking system remains fully operational, vendors need both electrical power and computer network connections for their credit card machines to work.  Most stores will not even accept a check if their electronic verification system isn’t working.  This is the weak link in our financial system.  You cannot count on using these conveniences during a disaster.

If a store is without power, it will likely close, even if it still has inventory.  Unless they have back-up generators, large “chain” stores are generally the first to close their doors.  These stores are not equipped to accept cash when their electronic systems are inoperable, and managers will deem it unsafe to let customers shop in a darkened store.  Expect this to happen.  Plan for it.  Stockpile everything you need prior to a disaster so that you don’t need to make last minute purchases.

If you are traveling or away from home when disaster strikes, get to the store and purchase what you need right away, without delay.  This is not the time to shop for the best price, nor is it the time to look for your favorite brands.  Prioritize.  Get what you need, and get out.

Even if cash-only shoppers are initially allowed into a store after a power outage, this will quickly come to an end.  Store managers will soon recognize that most of their cashiers are incapable of making change without the aid of their electronic cash registers.  Or, security concerns and the fact that cash drawers will not open without electrical power, will prompt them to close the store.  Even if a store has an emergency back-up generator, don’t expect it to remain open for more than a few hours, or a few days at most.  Small, locally owned and operated stores may remain open longer, so familiarize yourself with these local businesses now, before you need them.

Expect an increase in parking-lot robberies and theft, too.  Opportunistic criminals, as well as those who don’t have cash, will find it easy to steal from shoppers in chaotic or dark parking lots.  Knowing that police are busy elsewhere, and that security cameras are likely not functioning, criminal activity will increase.  At a time such as this, it is essential for you to increase your awareness and vigilance.  Thefts from stores, people, and vehicles, and stealing goods stored in garages and other unguarded locations, will likely skyrocket.  Expect this, and plan for it.

Unfortunately, keeping a quantity of cash on hand can easily make you a target or victim of theft, but it is nevertheless important to have some cash on hand for use in a power-out situation.  Cash kept at home should be well hidden, and money carried on your person should be in a money belt or other unusual location.  Keep some cash in your wallet or purse, in the hope that a robber will assume that it is all you have.  Remove expensive jewelry and other trappings of wealth.

If store owners perceive that the disaster will be a protracted situation, expect prices to skyrocket as supplies dwindle.  The law of supply and demand will apply, and many who have supplies will raise their prices as an opportunity to either maximize their income, or as a way to counter the panic buying of customers and hording.

While gold has value as an investment strategy, it may have little value for making purchases during an extended period of disaster.

In anticipation of inflation and economic disaster, many people have invested in gold.  While this may or may-not be a valid strategy to protect wealth, it is not helpful for operating within an emergency situation.  During an extended disaster when people are looking for food to eat, a bag of groceries will be more valuable than a bar of gold.

Though purchasing gold may be a prudent investment strategy, having goods for bartering will be more useful in the midst of a widespread, extended period of serious disaster.  Water, canned food, gasoline, batteries, candles, guns, ammunition, backpacking stoves, and other small items needed by people during an emergency, may become far more valuable to you than both gold and cash money.

As you consider your needs to buy-and-sell during an extended period of disaster, include some cash in your GO-Bag (evacuation kit), certainly.  But in an extended emergency situation, items which are useful for trade may become worth their weight in gold.  So stockpile extra quantities of items which you can use yourself, but which might also be valuable for trading.  Give particular attention to stockpiling those products which are likely to be in high-demand, but short-supply, after a disaster strikes.

What should you stockpile?  A variety of goods is best, but consider these factors when making your selection:  Products which are small and lightweight to transport, may be easier to carry and barter; food which has a long shelf life, and is securely packaged in a can or other packaging which is not easily contaminated, will be more trusted; brand-name goods which are commonly known to be of high-quality, will provide recognized value; goods related to safety, items which provide warmth during cold weather or shelter when none is available, will be in high demand.

Lastly, don’t let an emergency situation motivate you to become selfish.  You don’t want to help the hoarders, but you should help those who are genuinely in need.  In a disaster situation, it is particularly important for us to help those who are the least able to care for themselves.  We need to open our eyes to see those who genuinely need help, including those who are not asking for it.