Late one Friday night a few weeks back, an ambulance raced past on the way to a neighbor’s home at the end of the block. If you’re at all like me, no matter how many times you’ve had this experience, its always a bit unsettling. Because an ambulance, by definition, is the primary vehicle for the delivery of emergency medical services. Secondarily, they're tasked with transporting individuals in need of more extensive medical attention to the nearby facilities that provide it. All of this is accomplished under enormous amounts of pressure to respond to conditions quickly. So for all practical purposes, lights and sirens mean something is very wrong. I know, thanks Captain Obvious.
As I was thinking about all of this, a couple of questions came to mind. God forbid it should ever come to that, are we prepared for everything associated with first responder dispatched to our home? And what could we do to help those first responders, given a that the common denominator in all emergencies is that time is of the essence? So let’s stop here & define what it means to be prepared. If you were to look in the dictionary, you’d find something along the lines of “to make ready beforehand, for a specific purpose, as for an event or occasion.” That’s spot on. And while being prepared is second nature for some, for others of us, it something that not much thought is given to. So for the first of our being prepared posts, let’s talk about preparing for emergencies.
Because we live in Oak Park, Illinois, some of what will be mentioned here will be specific to preparing for some types of emergencies in our village. In reality, most metropolitan communities have very similar sets of programs. If you’re interested in pursing emergency preparedness, we’d recommend focusing on the village, city, township and county websites in your area to begin your search. In the meantime, and acknowledging this is not an all encompassing list, here are four really good starting points that will be important everywhere:
Make sure your house number can be clearly identified from the street in front of your home. Ideally, the numbers should be close to the front door and easily illuminated by a bright porch light. It’s best for them to be in contrasting colors to the paint scheme of your home, and the larger, the better. If your home is set back significantly off the street, house numbers on a yard mailbox, the fence or yard sign adjacent to the street are the next best thing. One of our earliest clients had a beloved Japanese maple, planted adjacent to the entry steps. It had gotten so tall that it was now completely covering the house numbers. There wasn’t a viable option in terms of moving them to another spot on the home so in our recommendation, we provided resource options on monument signs that could be installed adjacent to the steps or near the public sidewalk. Anything that helps a first responder or visitor be able to clearly identify the home will be a plus.
Provide ample warning of pets on the premises. Our front door mat notes this fact for everyone arriving at the door. There are a wide variety of types of signs and decals, (pets inside stickers & yard signing), that can be displayed that will help first responders and visitors prepare as they enter your home. Remember, your dog may be a lovable companion for you and your family, but may be a significant threat to first responders given the frenzied nature of strangers entering your home in an emergency situation. For additional information on pet handling during times of emergency, advice from the CDC can be found here.
Have an In Case of Emergency name & number (ICE) on a laminated card in your wallet and if you still have one, next to your landline phones and extensions. If you’re carrying a cell phone, it would also be helpful to have a contact in your phone labeled as (ICE). This would be someone who can make decisions for you in case it’s needed, most likely someone who is next of kin. There are cellphone applications that will help with this, and found in both the android and iPhone app stores.
Establish a support network to call upon in case of emergency. This is likely family, friends and neighbors who can quickly provide assistance if/when needed. It’s important that they have a spare key and codes to the alarm where applicable. Make sure you share your emergency plan(s) and practice executing those plans with them. When they enter your home, they should know where to find your emergency contact information (if they’re not family members) and where any emergency supplies are kept. Ideally, they can use lifesaving equipment or are able to administer medicines, but that shouldn’t preclude anyone from being included in your network. If you undergo routine treatments administered by a hospital or outpatient facility, find out what their emergency plans are and work with them to identify back-up service providers. Finally, if you have a communication-related disability, make sure there are instructions available that note the best way to communicate with you.
So you’ve already addressed these points. What’s next?
In our village, the 911 Emergency Needs Registry (click the link) authorizes Oak Park to transmit important medical information to first responders in the event of an emergency at your home. Along with the general identification, the form outlines disabilities, medical equipment that you may employ and emergency contact information that will be vital should there ever be a need for these services. The registry is a great option for those who don’t utilize cell phones as yet.
For those employing cell phones, an even better option in our village is a smart phone application called SMART911. In addition to being an emergency registry, the application also pushes emergency messaging to the residents and business entities in the village on an opt-in basis. These notifications can be received as texts, emails or voice messaging. To opt in, you can find more information on the community notification system here. SMART911 allows individuals to craft & manage a free safety profile linking their home and work addresses to cell phone numbers. The profile includes specific information that will be invaluable to first responders including emergency contacts, medical conditions, pets in the home, other individuals living on the property, vehicle descriptions and property details including utility information. It works incredibly simply: after the profile is created and submitted, should anyone in household dial 911 from the phone associated with the profile, the information is immediately displayed to the emergency dispatcher. Because this is an opt-in service, folks utilizing it can provide as much or as little relevant information as they wish and that information can only be viewed by emergency dispatch personnel when 911 is called from a registered number. The program works on both Android and Apple IOS phones. At this point, as we’ve noted, our village, the City of Chicago and any number of surrounding villages, cities and Counties in Northeastern Illinois are utilizing the application.
The Oak Park Fire Department also participates in the Knox HomeBox key security program. This allows firefighters to access your home in the event of an emergency. Knox Boxes are commonplace for commercial or industrial facilities. A highly secure KnoxBox is installed on the outside of your home, the key to the adjacent entry is housed in it & the master pass key to the box is secured by the fire department. There is obviously a cost involved, but from what we’re told, it’s approximately the cost of repairing or replacing the entry door the first responders come through for whatever reason. As a program, it’s another option for consideration in your preparation for emergencies.
Finally, one last important point of overall preparedness, since we’re discussing emergencies. I highly recommend spending time on www.ready.gov. There are comprehensive checklists that will help you plan ahead to address any concerns you may have regarding emergency preparedness, including this one specially focused on Seniors. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a section on emergency preparedness for Seniors as well, as does the American Red Cross. In our village, Oak Park additional information and links to other preparedness sites can be found here.
Everyone’s situation is unique. Getting a trained pair of eyes to determine opportunities & recommend remedies is an investment in your health and safety that pays dividends every day. And yes, we do that. Please reach out of we can be of help to you, a family member or friend. The reality is that this information applies to everyone.
Up next in the discussion of being prepared, what I learned when I was a Boy Scout.