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.
Specific information on hurricanes and tornadoes (the most dangerous storms) is also available. If your mobile phone has a web browser you can check the National Weather Service’s mobile site. It doesn’t even need to be a “smart phone” as long as it has web access.
Other Natural Disasters
Aside from weather emergencies, there are threats from fire and geological activity. The United States Geological Survey tracks earthquakes (even the ones too small to feel) all around the country. Volcanoes, too, although they are rare in populated areas. Undersea geological activity can also cause tsunamis, which are not frequent but can be devastating, as the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 demonstrated.
Wildfire is another natural threat. The US Fire Administration tracks active wildfires and has information about protecting yourself from wildfire. The National Weather Service includes “fire weather” and “red flag” warnings in local weather forecasts.
The big, dramatic natural disasters get most of the press, but the most common emergency in the US is residential fires. They are also the only emergency that is really preventable. While you can’t absolutely guarantee against fire, care in using electrical appliances, heat sources and open flame can prevent many household fires. Check your local fire department for advice.
The above organizations are national in scope. They’re excellent for warnings about major threats or wide-spread emergencies, but you should also be aware of smaller local threats. Just because a potential emergency is “small” on a global or national scale doesn’t mean you want to be caught unprepared. Find out in advance if your community has a service similar to Notify NYC that will send you an alert if there is the possibility of dangerous weather or other hazards. Sign up for notification by phone, text and/or e-mail, and bookmark the site in your web browser and on your mobile phone.
After an Emergency
If an emergency happens there will be help available. The exact nature of help and the organizations offering help will vary depending on the emergency, but here are some of “usual suspects.”
Let’s start with the American Red Cross. I’m a bit biased because I’m a volunteer–but then I have continued as a volunteer because the organization continues to impress me. If you’re in the United States you can find your local chapter on their website. If you’re outside the US, the IFRC has a directory of all 187 National Societies worldwide.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has information on their website for individuals, businesses and emergency managers. You can also look up the name and contact information for your state’s emergency management office. Bookmark their mobile site on your cell phone before you need it.
A long and growing list of communities offer telephone information referrals via a 211 or 311 number. These are usually managed by the United Way or a local municipality and are not only for emergency information. You can get information on local resources for health information and other topics, too.
Two other non-profit organizations that are often active in post-emergency assistance are the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities. No, you don’t have to agree with their theological views–they’ll help you out whatever your religious affiliation. And Feeding America (you might remember them as America’s Second Harvest, before they changed their name a couple of years ago) coordinates food banks all over the US. I’m a big fan of Feeding America, having first encountered them when I volunteered at an American Red Cross call center after hurricane Katrina and referred many callers, especially evacuees, to their local food banks.
Another terrific resource is Google Maps. They didn’t set out to be an emergency relief agency, but I’ve seen several good “mash-ups” of Google Maps with emergency data. Not all are equally reliable; it depends on the source of their information and how often they are updated. But at their best they can be as good as any information available.