Living in a State of Constant Communication                         By Laura & Janet Greenwald


In the middle of a busy, but quiet day in a Midwestern university lecture hall, the silence was pierced by a hail of gunfire.  Students ran out of the hall and ducked under tables.  Those that couldnít move tried to make themselves as invisible as possible until help arrived.   That day at Northern Illinois University, five students lost their lives and many others were injured.  As the police and security were struggling to control the situation, a few people were able to find out what was happening, in real time.  They were lucky enough to know that their children or classmates were all right. 

On September 11th 2001, in mere seconds the world as we knew it plunged into utter chaos. More so, for the people who worked in and around the World Trade Center. Electricity and telephones stopped working and communications for the most part were unusable, cutting the workers off from the rest of the world. But a few people, were able to reach their loved ones, some for the last time, others to reconnect with them exactly as planned, once they made it back out into undamaged sections of Manhattan.

What made the difference between the parents and friends at NIU who remained connected with their students and the majority who did not? Or the difference between the World Trade Center workers who were able to connect with their loved ones immediately versus those who spent hours or days wondering if the people they loved were still alive?

One simple word Ė Communication

At the sites of both shocking, unexpected tragedies, communication made the difference. Some of it was improvised genius and others, the result of careful, thoughtful preparation. No matter how the connection was born, you can easily tailor the lessons learned from these tragedies, to keep your own family in constant communication, no matter what happens.

The NIU Shootings Ė Facebook and Twitter to the Rescue

So how did some parents and friends have a real time view of the NIU tragedy? Facebook and Twitter!  As unbelievable as it sounds, students ingeniously found a way to use their favorite method of keeping in touch with friends, as a tool to connect to the outside world in time of crisis. 

Students caught under desks and tables grabbed their smart phones and started communicating. Tweets went out on Twitter, notes and messages went up on Facebook pages.  Messages told friends and family that the students who were literally in the thick of things, were all right. Others told loved ones or security officers where trapped students were located, facilitating their rescue. Friends started texting each other to find out where everyone was and in the hours that followed, created Facebook pages memorializing the fallen.

It was an amazing display of people used to being in touch with friends 24/7, using that same technology to communicate, connect, survive and heal.

Smart phones, cell phones and notebook computers are a GREAT way to stay in touch during an emergency. Whether itís just email or texting, sending tweets or writing on each otherís walls on Facebook, in seconds you can find out the location of everyone you love, discover if theyíre all right, or need help, and even mobilize family and friends to be at the side of the ill or injured. In a dire emergency you can even confirm or update emergency plans like meeting places, using real time information.  Most importantly you can bring your loved ones together, just when you need each other the most. 

9/11 Ė Reuniting Families in the Midst of Chaos

As devastating as that day was at NIU, the school still had electricity and phone service. But on 9/11, victims found themselves without those basic lifelines. How did they connect? Via cell phone and/or by following their pre-existing plan of where to meet loved ones in case of emergency.

Cell Phones Ė aka Lifeline #1

Can you imagine your life without that electronic appendage of yours? Iím taking about your cell phone. Hard to imagine isnít it? If youíre like most people, itís the main way that you connect with your family, friends and business associates. But few people viewed it as their literal lifeline. On 9/11 all that changed. As workers in and around the World Trade Center began running for their lives, they didnít necessarily have the time or presence of mind to grab their purses or briefcases. But many of them were smart enough to have made a habit out of always having their cell phone within reach. They grabbed the phone and were able to reach their spouses or children as they walked down the stairs, before cell phone towers gave out from the overwhelming traffic of users dialing each other all over New York and New Jersey.

How Disaster-Ready is Your Phone?

As the workers ran down endless flights of stairs to safety, many of them learned a very important lesson.

A cell phone is only as good as its battery life and the numbers & information that are stored on it!

Letís take those lessons one at a time. The first one is easy to prevent. Keep your phone charged. The simplest way to do that is to keep a charger stand where you store your phone every evening, and charge it while youíre watching TV or helping the kids with their homework. What? You donít keep your phone in the same place every night? Thatís another one of those habits you need to get into! What if you had to grab it to make an emergency call in the middle of the night? Or what if it begins to ring, wakes you up and you canít find it quickly enough to stop that infernal ring tone you think is so cool when itís not ringing at two in the morning!

While youíre at it, purchase an extra phone charger for the office and charge it during the day while youíre reading email or doing routine tasks at work.

Making Your Cell Phone Speak

Lesson two: youíve been talking to your cell phone long enough. Itís time you make it speak for YOU Ė and in a way that can save your familyís lives.

During Hurricane Katrina, the Tsunami and other recent disasters, someone came up with the idea of putting an ICE entry, (short for In Case Of Emergency), on your phone, to make your emergency contacts stand out to people reading it in an emergency. The idea quickly spread around the world, and most hospitals now look for ICE entries on the cell phones of unconscious patients.

If a disaster struck right now, where youíre sitting and the only thing you could grab was your cell phone, would you have everything you need to:

  • Reach the people you love

  • Be able to communicate your vital emergency contacts

  • Be able to communicate your basic medical information if you are injured and unable to speak for yourself

  • Survive until you reach home, your loved ones or your pre-planned safe location

Thatís a lot of work for one little cell phone, but with some thought and planning, itís easier than you think to turn your smart phone into your very own emergency command center. In fact weíre going to take this one step further to give you, hospitals and emergency personnel the information necessary to save you or your family memberís life, right in your ICE contacts.

Sit down with each member of your family and decide who their two main emergency contacts are going to be. Depending on your cell phone model, you should be able to put quite a bit of information right in that one contact. The contact name of course will be ICE, but you can put the contactís first name and relationship, (for example Cynthia Ė Mom) in the company name field, so a doctor reading it, would know that this contact is the patientís mother.

Play around with the other fields until you fill in all the information you possibly can. For example:

  • Your emergency contactís main phone number

  • Cell number

  • Work number

  • Email Address

  • IM, Twitter and Facebook address if you need to send them emergency messages or quick updates

  • A direct URL link to your emergency contact information and basic medical history (optional)

For a second contact person, type in a second entry and name it ICE2.

Now about that last item Ė the direct URL Link. Letís say you (or someone you love), are unconscious and unable to give the trauma team treating you, your basic medical history. Think about this for a moment. This means that you canít tell them what medicines youíre allergic to or what conditions you might have that could prove fatal, if they donít treat you, or your spouse or your child, with your personal medical histories in mind.

We always suggest that our customers use our comprehensive Grab it and Go Forms, to capture each family memberís medical and vital information, insurance numbers, emergency contact numbers and other life saving information. If you donít have those forms you can make a basic version in Word or Excel. Although you donít want to record anything that could compromise you or your family Ė like social security numbers or financial information Ė make sure that you put down everything you would tell a trauma physician about you or your loved one if you were standing in front of them.

Once you have saved the documents (one for each member of the family) on your computer, print out a couple of copies of each. Place one set at home, in a safe but easy to grab location. Place another set in your and your spouseís file cabinet at work.

Now store one copy of the documents in the file manager of your personal web site, or secure online file system. Put the URL to this document or file into your cell phone. This way if you are injured, the hospital will be able to grab your medical history and extended emergency contacts. If your spouse, child or even a parent is injured and you are in another location, you can easily access that document and email it to the hospital to speed emergency treatment. You might even include a treatment consent form for your children, in case a hospital needs one to begin treating your child, before you arrive.

If your phone has the capability, you can also store those documents as well as a copy of your familyís emergency plan, right in your phone, in case you ever need it while away from home. You can note the names of the documents in the ICE contact for easy retrieval.

Now you have all the information you will need, and emergency personnel treating you or your family will need, to easily locate your emergency contacts and use your medical history as a factor in your care.

How Good Is Your Family At Communication?

Yes they can talk on the phone for hours at a time and IM (instant message) until their fingers fall off. But do they have what they need on them, to speak for them in an emergency?

Remember the old Medic Alert bracelets? Doctors became so accustomed to spotting the silver bracelet on a patientís arm, alerting them to allergies or chronic diseases, that any time entire generations of kids, had a medical problem, they had a bracelet strapped to their arm whether they liked it or not! They havenít changed since the Ď70s and you know why? Because they work!

The problem is, just alerting a hospital to a disease or an allergy doesnít tell the whole story about a patient. So that is what weíre about to do.

Think about your spouseís daily routine for a moment. Does she always take a cell phone, a purse with her, or a backpack? Does he go running every day wearing nothing but shorts and an iPod? Does he or she always carry a wallet, or almost never?

Wallet Cards

Our first step is to make sure that your family members always have basic emergency information with them, at all times. The simplest way to do it is with a Wallet Card. We provide a souped-up version along with the Safe Family and Safe Student Action Plans. But you can make your own if you need to. Just print out a basic card, thatís the same size as your credit cards. On one side, type or print the personís name, birth year/blood type, physician and emergency contact names/numbers and allergies. On the reverse, you can place the details (meeting place, necessary phone numbers) of your familyís emergency plan.

You can use these cards for every member of the family. The plan can detail a local meeting place, in case of a local disaster, as well as an alternate out of area location.

Once you make your cards, where do you put them? Have your spouse or children place one card in a purse or wallet that they carry all the time or in a prominent place in their briefcase or backpacks. If they carry their company or student ID in a plastic badge holder, tuck the wallet card behind the ID. They can also place one behind their iPod, if they use a case or a skin.

Most accidents happen just a few blocks from home, exactly where people feel comfortable doing errands or going out for a run without their driver's license or other ID. Not very helpful when the most basic information any hospital needs to treat you, is your name! Here are a few tips to make your ID and other basic information easy to find, even when you're on the run.

If you have a company ID badge, slip one of your wallet cards into it for those quick runs out of the office for meetings or a snack.

Hereís a solution for the times you and your family are out running, or playing sports, or running errands with no wallet or purse in sight. Itís called a Shoewallet. It's made by Shoewallet Active Wear and is a sturdy, lightweight wallet you take with you when you're on the go to your Wallet Card, cash, keys, your state ID, your vital information, credit cards, transit cards, Starbucks or gym membership cards, hotel keys - nearly anything you need when you don't have a purse, briefcase or simply can't carry a big fat wallet.

The twist is, they securely fasten to almost anything. You can fasten them to your running shoes if you're out jogging or at the gym, to a belt loop or your company ID badge if you're out walking, to an iPod or cell phone case, or you can just drop it in your pocket. When used on a shoe, they're so light that you can't feel them, even when they're full.

Recently we had a light bulb moment Ė right in the middle of a crosswalk Ė that highlighted the reason EVERYONE should use Shoewallets for whether weíre just running out to the store, or just out running. Hereís a link to the whole story.

Protecting Your Children Ė Donít Let This Happen To You!

In the days after September 11th, two thousand, one hundred children were left stranded in daycare. Why? Because their parents didnít fill out one of the fields on their daycare emergency contact cards. What was it? ďWho should we contact if you are not able to pick up your child?Ē

How could something so basic, strand two thousand children on one of the scariest days in American history? Procrastination! The inability or refusal to take a few moments to think through what might happen if both parents were unable to reach their child. It doesnít even have to be a real emergency for this to happen. You could be stuck on the freeway, or trapped in an airplane you were certain would arrive on time.

So take a few moments to think about it. And donít just jot down the first name that pops into your head! If you and your spouse were unable to get to your child for two or three days, who would be the best person to care for him? You need someone who knows your child extremely well. Someone who would be able to calm her down and would have the energy to care for her. Someone who knows what she likes and dislikes. In case of extreme emergency like September 11th, you would need someone with the ability, brains and fortitude to help locate you or your spouse, if overburdened emergency personnel weren't able to help.

That is the kind of thought you need to put into emergency planning, especially where your children are concerned.

You Are The Best Judge Of Your Familyís Needs

When it comes down to it, you and your family are the best judges of what types of information and communication systems will work best for you.  A family that thrives on chaos and disorganization wonít suddenly be responsible about updating and safeguarding their own vital information.  The secret is to set aside one afternoon to write your emergency contacts, information and medical history down and put it in a safe, easy to retrieve spot, store the basic information we covered, in your cell phone and wallet card and you can relax, knowing that whatever happens you and your family have what you need to stay safer in nearly any sudden emergency.

Creating communications plans are just ONE way to keep you and your family safe.  We have many more...

How about Grab it and Go Forms to capture medical history, insurance, financial and vital documents for every member of the family, that can be filled out by hand, or by computer, secured and ready whenever you need them?  Or customizable emergency action plans, home inventory, tips, checklists and  printable wallet cards.   Check out Ready In 10 Today!




Laura and Janet Greenwald, are the founders of The Next of Kin Education Project and Stuf Productions.  The mother & daughter team were not only instrumental in enacting three Next of Kin Laws in California and Illinois, but created the Seven Steps to Successful Notification System, which teaches quick, easy, next of kin notification skills for trauma patients to hospitals like Dallasí Methodist Medical Center. 

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