Being unable to find out if my mother was dead or alive in Puerto Rico for five days post-Maria was terrifying, especially because she had a broken leg and was housebound. I learned a lot from this horrendous experience, mostly that you need to have a plan in place BEFORE a disaster. And that plan has to be more than “Call me as soon as you can.”
Here are my hurricane-inspired guidelines for communication in emergency situations.
1. Phone. The most frustrating aspect of the Hurricane Maria emergency was the complete lack of working phones anywhere – not just on the island, but on widely shared lists of governmental aid agencies like FEMA. NONE of those numbers worked, even when their area codes were in places not affected by the hurricane. Here’s a newsflash: you will not be able to rely on the government for communication in case of an emergency. It will be private citizens and NGOs that make things happen.
That said, even though phone service may be out for days, phones are still your first line of defense. Create a network of friends and family in different states and even countries. If the person in the disaster zone can get through to even one, he or she can spread the word to the rest of the network. Create your own plan, with people you know and trust, and watch out for each other.
Note that sometimes texting works even when regular phone service doesn’t. Keep calling and texting. At some point, phones will come back online. Don't fill up voicemail in case others need to leave messages.
Oh, and keep your phone charged! Have at least one portable charger like this one and keep it/them charged too.
Posted on Monday, September 25, 2017