Saturday, January 23, 2010


I see this morning that there is a mass exodus from Port au Prince, the capital city of Haiti that was virtually destroyed by the earthquake. Now two weeks after the quake, having exhausted all hope of rescuing any more live victims from the crumbled ruins of the city, hundreds of thousands of survivors are trying to escape to somewhere, anywhere, else. According to reports, these people don't even care where they go, they just want to get away from the city that now sits in ruins.

They've lost everything — homes, family members, friends, all their possessions. Many children that appear to be orphans may only be separated from their parents. But they don't know for sure. Nobody knows for sure. Some might someday be reunited with family, but others will not. But today, there is no way of knowing. It is chaos.

The problem with disasters is that nobody knows for sure when they're going to hit. So we tend to sit on our duffs, complacent in the day to day life of a normal society. Then one day, the world turns upside-down and we weren't prepared for it. We never formulated a plan, for example, to reunite family members who are in separate parts of the city when the crisis hits. So the kids don't have a plan in mind about how to find their parents. The school doesn't know how to put parents and children back together. Parents have no idea how to locate each other or the kids. Everybody just falls into a dazed survivor mode and waits for the government to come along and make it all better.

I hate to break the news, but that doesn't work. If you need evidence of that, just flip on the TV and watch what's going on in Haiti. Several governments from around the world, including the U.S. have rushed to the aid of the victims. But even with all that effort, there is desperation and chaos.

Here's the truth. Unless you have your own personal plan, you're probably out of luck. Do not expect the government or non-government relief organizations to be able to solve your problems. Here's what you need to do. I suggest you do it now, before some catastrophe catches you off-guard.

  • Sit down with your family members and study a map of your city. Highlight the locations of your home, the schools your children attend, the place where you work, the church you attend, and anyplace else you regularly spend time (such as a gym, etc.).
  • Within reasonable walking distance from all of those highlighted places, locate an open area such as a park or open field where there is minimal potential for collapsed buildings, fire, or flood. So you're looking for a place with no or few buildings, with little combustible material, and a place that is out of the floodplain. You also want to avoid overhead powerlines. 
  • The open place will be a rendezvous spot. You should select a primary and then choose an alternate rendezvous spot, in case something prevents the use of the primary location. 
  • Now, using the map, plan logical walking routes from each of the previously highlighted places to your chosen rendezvous spots. 
  • Spend a day showing every member of the family the routes they would follow to move to the primary and secondary rendezvous spots. Drive the roads, and select alternate routes that could serve well if the primary route is obstructed. 
  • Talk it over and come up with a plan about when it is advisable to evacuate to the rendezvous spot. You don't want your children leaving school and heading to the rendezvous spot every time there's a noisy thunderstorm. The school might have a disaster response plan that is designed to care for the children until parents come to collect them. Work with the school to figure this out. But, if the school is destroyed and there is nothing but chaos, the children need to know where to go to meet up with the rest of the family. 
  • If possible (and if appropriate for the capabilities of your children), equip every member of the family with an FRS (Family Radio Service) 2-way radio that they can keep in a small backpack or bookbag. This is not a toy, and the children must be trained how to use it, and when. If a major disaster strikes, this will be the means of contacting each other while in the process of gathering together. 
  • Each person should have a very basic survival kit that includes a pocket rain poncho, signal whistle, signal mirror, and some bandaids. The parents should be able to put hands on a fully equipped 72-hour kit that includes shelter, food, water, medical kit, firemaking equipment, and other things spelled out in my archived post titled Grab and Go (posted on September 30, 2009).
  • The rendezvous spot may be nothing more than a convenient gathering place, and then you might need to move to a more secure location to set up camp. Or the rendezvous spot might be suitable as a camp location. That's for you to determine. 
This preparation will allow you to make the choice about setting up your own private refugee camp away from the chaos. Without a plan you are at the mercy of the situation.

No comments:

Post a Comment