Monday, July 19, 2010

In An Emergency, Who Has Your Back?




# 4735



Few people ever expect to be caught up in a disaster or even a serious personal emergency, and fewer still plan for it.  Yet it happens to hundreds of thousands of Americans every year.  


Globally, we’re talking millions of people.


Some disasters are personal – like a house fire or a car accident. While others are of a much larger scale – like a hurricane, a flood, or an earthquake.


But both types of disasters can leave you, and your family, homeless or in desperate need of assistance. 


Yes, FEMA is there to help you in a declared disaster, and there are a number of other emergency assistance organizations and agencies like the Red Cross for disasters large and small.  


The work these groups do is important, and invaluable.  But there are limits as to what they can do for you and your family in an emergency.  


For several years I’ve promoted the idea of Flu Buddies – one or more persons you establish a mutual-aid agreement with if either of you get incapacitated by the flu.


It’s an idea that has value far beyond just flu, however. Although I go in greater detail in Pandemic Solutions: Flu Buddies, the idea is pretty simple.  


Nearly 1 person in 10 in the United States lives alone.   That’s roughly 27 million adults.


Add to that the number of households with one adult caring for one or more minor children or caring for elderly, disabled, or otherwise unable to fend-for-themselves individuals, and the number goes up dramatically.


So people who live alone, or who are the sole responsible adult in a household, have a pressing need to establish a pandemic (or even seasonal flu) `safety net’ with friends, relatives, or neighbors by arranging to have (and to be) a `Flu Buddy’.


A `Flu Buddy’ is simply someone you can call if you get sick, who will then check on you every day, make sure you have the medicines you need (including fetching Tamiflu if appropriate), help care for you if needed, and who can call for medical help if your condition deteriorates.


Those people who care for others, like single parents, also need to consider who will take care of their dependents if they are sick.


I am already a `Flu Buddy’ to several relatives and close friends. I know that in return, should I be stricken with the flu, that I have several people who will be willing to look out for me as well.


This concept isn’t new of course.   It is what friends, neighbors, and families have done for each other for thousands of years.  


But in recent years, with our increasingly mobile and transient society, many people find themselves isolated, alone, and without a built-in safety net.  


Late last year my sister and father were involved in a serious car wreck. Both were hospitalized (then in rehab) for 5 weeks, and both needed considerable support during their hospital stay, and assistance after they came home.


They were lucky enough to have family, friends, and neighbors who took on those extra duties.   


And if you’ve got that kind of support system, consider yourself lucky.  Many do not.


Which is why everyone should be thinking about the idea of becoming a `Disaster buddy’.  Someone who prearranges to help a friend, relative, or neighbor during a personal or local emergency. 


In return, you could rely on them to help you if you needed it.    It only works if it is reciprocal.


Frankly, having (and being) a `Disaster Buddy’ to friends, neighbors, and relatives should be part of everyone’s family disaster plan.


The National Hurricane Survival Initiative survey, conducted earlier this year by Mason-Dixon, polled residents from Virginia to Texas who live within 30 miles of the coast.  


One of the questions I found of particular interest was:


QUESTION: If you needed to evacuate, where would you go?

  23% - To a local shelter
  18% – To a local hotel/motel out of harms way 
  26% - To the house of a nearby friend
  25% - As far as possible – trying to outrun the
path of the storm
   7% - You would not leave under any circumstances
   1% - Not Sure (NOT READ)



For many reasons, the `best’ answer for most people is probably the third one - To the house of a nearby friend.


  • Trying to find a hotel/motel room during a major hurricane evacuation may prove impossible
  • Attempting to get in your car to try to `outrun the storm’  –  amid the traffic snarls that often come with these evacuations – is a recipe for disaster.
  • The fact that nearly a quarter of respondents consider their local hurricane shelters to be their first choice to evacuate to has to be of concern to emergency planners. 


Few communities have the capacity to take in a quarter of their vulnerable residents during a storm. 


Public hurricane shelters should be a `shelter of last resort’.  Reserved for those who have no other place to go. 


No one likes to impose on a friend, of course. 


But if you’ve already established a `disaster buddy’ relationship  – one that is fair and reciprocal – it shouldn’t be considered an imposition.


In the parlance of paramedics, cops, firefighters and the military . . .   “you have their back, and in return, they have yours.”


There has also never been a better time to volunteer to help with the American Red Cross, The Medical Reserve Corps, CERT, or your Neighborhood watch.


We are truly only prepared as our friends, families, and surrounding community are.  There are roles to play for everyone, including civic organizations, schools, and church. 


Now - before a disaster occurs - is the time to sit down and talk to your friends, family, and neighbors about how you will help one another during a personal or community wide crisis.


For more, you might want to revisit:


NPM10 And Building A Culture Of Preparedness

An Appropriate Level Of Preparedness

The Gift Of Preparedness


For more potentially life saving preparedness information, go to: