Bookmarking for Preparedness

Today is the last day of Emergency Preparedness Month, but that doesn’t mean preparedness should ever stop. So I’m cracking open my bookmarks folder and sharing some of my favorite websites for information about emergencies.

Many emergencies are weather-related, from extremes of heat and cold to storms of all kinds. In the US the most reliable source is the National Weather Service. It’s always the first site I bookmark on a new computer for everything from knowing what jacket to wear today to getting updates on hurricanes.

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Opening the Flood Gates–Of Communication

When I was a child, radio stations still conducted Emergency Broadcast System tests by broadcasting loud, annoying alarms. after a half minute or so of beeps, a voice would intone, “This is a test. This is only a test. In the event of an actual emergency….”

Back then it was pretty simple. Near-instantaneous warnings could be sent by radio, television, a local siren, or loudspeakers on emergency vehicles. Unless the danger area was geographically small, only the first two were effective.

Today there are innumerable ways to notify people in an emergency. Computers and mobile communication devices have each added multiple channels, and there is some overlap–e-mail, text messaging, instant messaging, and several online social networks. Old-fashioned telephones have gone mobile and technology makes it possible for emergency managers to broadcast recorded notifications to phone numbers that have subscribed to their service. (These are sometimes called “Reverse 911,” although that’s actually a trademarked company name. There are other services that work similarly.)

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Of Earl, Tornados and Emergency Plans

On Monday I posted an item about the Ready New York presentation I gave last week, barely an hour after a tornado warning for Brooklyn and Staten Island had been called off. As it turned out, the National Weather Service investigated the weather records and damage and determined that two tornadoes had touched down in New York City–one in Brooklyn and the other in Queens–along with a macroburst.

Tornadoes are rare in New York. At a rough estimate, I’d say we have one about every two or three years and they are usually rather small. Hurricanes are also rare, but even a category 1 storm could do serious damage to a city that is mostly built on islands. Yet at the beginning of the month, right before the Labor Day weekend, hurricane Earl was making his way up the eastern seaboard and the National Hurricane Center was issuing warnings for coastal areas, including New York. What a way to celebrate National Preparedness Month!

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When the Unexpected Happens

For almost nine years I have been a volunteer with the American Red Cross. (To be precise I was a paid staff member for three of those years and a volunteer the other six.) In that time I’ve done quite a few things, beginning with two months as a volunteer doing data entry on the World Trade Center disaster response, then working for the September 11 Recovery Program (that was the paid position). After downsizing in 2004, as the Recovery Program was completing its work, I became an active volunteer with the Greater New York chapter.

Last Thursday I was scheduled to give a presentation on emergency preparedness in Staten Island at 7:00 pm. After five years of giving presentations I almost had to cancel one for the first time–there was a tornado warning for Staten Island and Brooklyn until 6:00 pm. And I had figured that I would need to leave at just about 6:00 to get to the location with a little time to set up.

Now this was a serious conflict for me. Although as a volunteer I work many fewer hours than paid staff (and some other volunteers) do, I take my volunteer commitments seriously and once made I almost never cancel–and not at the last minute! Yet would it be appropriate to go out when there was a tornado warning? I was on pins and needles, listening to the radio and watching for text messages from Notify NYC.

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