Emergency/Disaster Com Plan for Your Family
Modified and adapted by Earl Pack – AE5PA.
Base material from a Cook County ARES training article 3/24/2004
Updates for technical improvements by P. Smith, k5prs, 26 Mar 2023
As amateur operators, we spend time practicing and preparing for emergency communications in case of a disaster. Everybody
knows how important this is for first responders, hospitals, emergency vehicles, police comms, etc. but this may not be the best
mode for family communications in an emergency.
Many of us travel out of town frequently or are separated from our families by some distance for work, school, shopping, etc.
on a daily basis. Since the safety and wellbeing of our families should be our first responsibility, we should have a plan for
communicating with them quickly and efficiently.
Consider what you would do if a disaster struck your community and you were separated from your family. How would you reach
them to let them know you are OK or to plan a rendevous point? Or maybe you are out of town when disaster strikes the
community where your family is located. How would you reach them to determine if they are OK? How will they reach you?
Perhaps your plan is to just call each other using your cell phone? It is certainly the preferred method but it may not be possible
because of disruption of service. Cell service, especially the towers that carry our calls, is easily damaged. In addition, most
wireless networks operate at or near capacity under normal conditions. When a disaster occurs, demand for service will be higher
than normal demand which means that even if the wireless system was not damaged in the disaster, many calls will not complete.
During several disasters over the last several years, many of us have personally experienced cell phone service to be very spotty or
So what if the wireless phone networks have been damaged, or they are so congested that you can’t get calls through, or you
had to evacuate a building on short notice and simply couldn’t return to your desk to get your phone?
The first thing you and all of your family members should do is to send a digital message, from a borrowed phone if necessary, to
all of your local and extended families’ cell phones. Set up a group in your contacts list to do this in one go. The second thing family
members should do is send a voice mail to your immediate family members and to one contact in each remote family. Family
members should know NOT to check voice mail if they receive digital messages as this takes more battery power.
For those to be effective, you should set up an emergency communications plan for your family that will maximize the chances that
your communications will be received in a timely manner. Remember that everyone might not be able to charge their phones so a
phone tree on the hour or the half hour if necessary would minimize usage. After comms are established, contact times should be
reduced to every two or even four hours and batteries should be removed if possible to conserve power in the interim. Voice calls
should be minimized or even eliminated as they take more power than do text messages or emails.
Children should stay where they are and parents should go get them as quickly as possible. Things could get ugly so prepare as you
see fit. Children should NEVER leave safety to get home no matter how long the wait. If they must travel alone (leave school for
instance), they should travel the shortest possible distance to a pre-established safe house and they should travel with others whenever
During a local or regional disaster, it is generally easier to get a phone or text message to/from areas outside of the disaster area so
make sure you have contacts out there to act as ‘repeaters’. Your ‘repeaters’ should have a list of your family members with phone
numbers and email addresses. ‘Repeaters’ should know to forward messages to ALL family members and not just to spouses. Both
the children and the ‘safe house’ owners need to know the situation and the plans. Keep in mind that telephone carriers will take
action to mitigate expected congestion. Carriers will re-balance capacity to permit outgoing calls from the affected disaster area.
This is seen as more efficient, since one call out of the disasters area with news that a family is OK can be relayed to numerous others
by the first recipient eliminating the need for numerous, redundant calls out of the affected area. Note that recipients may have
trouble getting into the disaster zone so plan to use digital messaging which should eventually get through. Also, it is best to have
at least one back-up message center, because your primary message center may not be available to receive calls when you need them.
Once you create a plan, you should share it with all involved parties (immediate family to safe houses to ‘repeaters’. You might put the
phone numbers and email address on a laminated wallet card that everyone in the family, safe houses and ‘repeaters’ can carry or keep
by their computers. Do not rely on your cell phone or PDA for this–they may break, get lost, water damaged or run out of batteries.
Most people do not lose their wallets. Also do not rely on memorized numbers because you may be injured and not remember the number.
Emergency services, etc. should be able to find this card.
I have left HAM radio and its variants until last. If spouses and children are operators, if repeaters are operational, if you’re close enough
for simplex, if everyone has their radios at hand, etc., pre-planned repeaters or frequencies will be a great way to communicate. If all radios
have digital messaging, details of comms will not be forgotten. If equipment is properly shielded, your equipment might survive a HEMP or
nuclear attack where cell systems may not. Either way, a plan is required or comms will be impossible.
Make a plan to take care of and communicate with your first priority…your family.
That concludes tonight’s training. Are there any questions, comments or suggested additions to this material?
Thanks, this is (callsign) clear to net control.