Can Facebook & Twitter Save Your Life?

 By Laura & Janet Greenwald

In the middle of a quiet day in the lecture hall of a Midwestern university, the silence was pierced by a hail of gunfire.  Students dashed out of the room and ducked under tables.  Those who couldn’t 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 struggled to control the situation, a few people were able to find out what was happening, in real time.  They were the only ones fortunate enough to know that their children or classmates had survived. 

On September 11th 2001, in mere seconds, the world plunged into utter chaos.  More so, for the people who worked in and around the World Trade Center.  Electricity and telephone service was gone and communications were rendered unusable, cutting victims 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 – Communication

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

The NIU Shootings – 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 you send a simple email or text, or send tweets or post to each other’s Facebook walls, in seconds you can find out the location of everyone you love, discover if they’re 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 technology can bring your loved ones together, just when you need each other the most.  That was just demonstrated in the 7.0 earthquake in Haiti.  Nothing could have prepared Port-au-Prince for that level of devastation.  

Here’s a quote from CNN: “Limited communications hampered reporting of casualties and destruction. But the quake had reportedly brought down The Hotel Montana, popular with foreigners visiting Port-au-Prince. French Minister of Cooperation Alain Joyandet expressed concern Wednesday for the approximately 200 French tourists staying there.   Night fell a few hours after the earthquake reduced buildings as grand as the National Palace to rubble and knocked down phone and power lines.  Communication with people in Haiti was, at best, sketchy and achieved mainly through social networking sites such as Twitter and YouTube and via Internet phone.”  

In the last few years, the world has changed dramatically.  There are tools and resources available to you and your family that you were unimaginable in the last decade.  Now it’s time to put them to work for you.  

So how can your family use technology in an emergency? 

The first step is to make sure that each family member has everyone’s email, text, user names and cell numbers on their cell or smart phone.  When you’re putting together your family’s emergency plan, be sure to list everyone’s information right in the plan.  Our books “Don’t Lose All Your Stuff In A Hurricane!” and “Ready In 10”, come with specially designed action plans to capture all of this information.

Once you’ve gathered all the information, give each family member has a copy.  Their “homework” will be to enter a contact for each family member, into their own cell phone or smart phone.  We’ll show you how to do this in the next section.   

You would be surprised how many people have entries for every friend and colleague they’ve had since camp, only to be missing the most vital information for members of their own family!  I guess we just always assume that the people we love most, will be standing right next to us, the moment a disaster strikes.  But this exercise will ensure that even if they aren’t right next to you, that you’ll be reunited as quickly as humanly possible.

When your action plan is complete, discuss it with your family.  Before you sit down with them, come up with some sample scenarios, for example, if a disaster were to happen while your family members were at work, at school or running errands during a normal day.  How would you connect with each other?  Do you all text, or would calling be faster?  If you have teens or young adults at home, their natural proclivity may be to send out a tweet on twitter, to update everyone they know on their location or situation.  Don’t forget twitter can also be used to send personal messages, so you don’t have to worry about broadcasting your personal business for the entire world to read.  

Suppose cell phones were out, but electricity was working.  Or vice versa.  The best way to plan, is to give yourselves as many ways as possible to stay connected.  Then if one or two normal methods are unusable, you’ll all simply turn to a different method to reach each other.  Another idea is to create a Family Emergency Code or Word.  This is a code or word that only you and your immediate family know.  When a family member says it, texts it or emails it to the rest of the family, it signals that they’re in trouble or need help immediately.  It’s only to be used in extreme emergency and means that everyone needs to drop what they’re doing and establish contact immediately.   

And remember that it’s not just the contact names but the contacts themselves, who can save your life or provide lifesaving information in an emergency.   

Recently there was a fire in our neighborhood, which began on the 32nd floor of a high rise condo building.  It was 1 am on one of the coldest nights of the year.  The electricity, elevators and regular phone service were cut off.  One woman, not only afraid for herself, but for the ninety year old couple she cared for, who sat huddled nearby.  The apartment was quickly filling with smoke.  The problem was, the caregiver had no idea where the fire was.  She picked up her cell phone and called her husband who was in a different state.  He got on the internet, found live local news coverage and was able to tell her what floor the fire was on and that the fire department was on the scene.  She knew she would be safe for the time being, and was able to wait until the firefighters knocked on their door to lead her and the couple to safety.  The moral of the story is, you need to have as many connectivity options available to you as possible.  You never know which one might save your life.

9/11 – 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 – aka Lifeline #1

Can you imagine your life without that electronic appendage of yours?  I’m taking about your cell phone.  Hard to imagine isn’t it?  If you’re like most people, it’s the main way that you connect with your family, friends and business associates.  But few people view 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 didn’t 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 they were about to experience. 

How Disaster-Ready is Your Phone?

A few lessons emerged that day.  The first lesson? 

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

Fortunately this one’s 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 you’re watching TV or helping the kids with their homework.   While you’re at it, purchase an extra phone charger for the office and charge it during the day while you’re reading email or doing routine tasks at work. 

Making Your Cell Phone Speak

The second lesson?  You’ve been talking to your cell phone long enough.  It’s time you make it start talking back – and in a way that can save your family’s lives. 

During Hurricane Katrina, the Tsunami and more 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 emergency workers 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 you’re 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

That’s a lot of work for one little cell phone, but with some thought and planning, it’s easier than you think to turn your smart phone into your very own emergency command center.  In fact we’re going to take this one step further to give you, hospitals and emergency personnel the information necessary to save you or your family member’s life, right in your ICE contacts.  It’s time to make your iPhone into an I phone, or put your Droid to work for you.  You don’t even need an app to do it.  Just ten minutes and a little creativity!

After you and your family enter each other’s contact information into your cell phone, sit down with each member of your family and decide who their two main emergency contacts are going to be.  Let’s say that your husband or wife, decides to have you as their first emergency contact and they have already placed all of your cell numbers, work numbers, email addresses and twitter IDs into their cell phone.  In that case all you need to do is change the name on the contact from your first name, to ICE.  Then you will place the contact’s first name and relationship into the company name field (for example Cynthia – Wife), so a doctor reading it, would know that this contact is the patient’s wife.

Depending on your cell phone model, you should be able to put quite a bit of information right in that one contact.  In fact we’ve put together an example of entering contacts into an iPhone at  this link, along with a graphic you can use on your phone to easily identify your ICE contact.  To download it, right click this link,  choose "save target as" and save it to your desktop.  

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

  •   Your emergency contact’s main phone number
  •   Cell number
  •   Work number
  •   Email Address
  •   IM, Twitter and Facebook address, so you can send this person emergency messages or quick updates 
  • Company name, weekly schedule and any other pertinent information to help locate that person quickly.

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

One other idea is to create another contact called Medical History or Emergency Information.  Let’s say you 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 can’t tell them what medicines you’re allergic to or what conditions you might have that could prove fatal, if they don’t treat you, (or your spouse, or your child) with your personal medical histories in mind.  In the Medical History contact, place a URL link, which goes directly to a document with your basic medical history, physician and any other relevant information.  You can store that document on your family’s private web page, or online file system.  In an emergency, a trauma team searching your cell phone for information, will have everything they need to treat you, until your family arrives at the hospital.  

We always tell our customers to use our comprehensive Grab it and Go Forms, to capture each family member’s medical and vital information, insurance numbers, emergency contact numbers and other life saving information.  By the way, when you download Ready In 10, you'll receive copies of all of those forms.  All you have to do is make sure they include 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 retrieve location.  Place another set, in your file cabinet at work.  

One person in every family is usually the keeper of the information.  Whoever this is for your home – probably you – should set up her or his cell phone as the family’s mobile command center.  Let’s say it’s you.  Not only should your phone contain each family member’s contact information, but it should also contain any information you’ll need in an emergency.  If you don’t already have one, you should probably get yourself a smart phone, with the ability to store documents.  If not, you can also store these document in the file manager of your personal web site, or secure online file system, and just store the URLs in your phone for easy retrieval. 

The documents you should have instant access to are your family’s emergency action plan (again, they’re available for free download on our web site if you don’t have one) and a copy of each family member’s medical history form.  Then, as we said, put the URL to this document or the document itself 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, while you’re on your way to the hospital.  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.  Just note the names of the documents your own special ICE contact for easy retrieval. 

You Are The Best Judge Of Your Family’s 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 won’t suddenly be responsible about updating and safeguarding their own vital information.  The secret is to set aside one afternoon and compile all your emergency contacts, information and medical history, put it in a safe, easy to retrieve spot, set up your cell phone as a mobile command center and make sure that each family member has a wallet card putting all of the information they need, at their fingertips.  Then you can relax, knowing that whatever happens, you and your family have what you need to be ready to deal with nearly any disaster or emergency in 10 minutes or less.

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.   The Ready In 10 System, will have you ready for nearly anything in just one afternoon.  




The Ready In 10 System by Laura & Janet Greenwald   $19.95

This 62 pg. Workbook & System includes :

  • Grab it and Go Forms. Wallet Cards, Emergency Action Plan, Home Inventory and Get Back To Life Plan right in the book, so you can fill them in and toss them into your emergency bin for safekeeping and easy access.  
  • The Quick Start Guide
  • "Don't Lose All Your Stuff In A Hurricane" ($19.99 value) & Turn Your iPhone into a Mobile Command Center, 
  • A link to an electronic version of Grab it and Go Forms and Wallet Cards for each member of your family PLUS your Emergency Action Plan, Home Inventory and Get Back To Life Plan, so you can save your plans and information to your hard drive, flash drive, or have them available remotely for easy access in any emergency.

Purchase The Ready In 10 System Print Edition for $19.95   

NOTE: When you receive your book, in the first few pages, you'll find a link where you can go and immediately download all of the forms, plans and extras that come free with this book.


Would YOUR Family Be Ready In 10?  Watch the Video & Find Out

There’s only one difference between family one and family two.  And that difference is a plan.
Once you decide which
family you’d rather be, purchase Ready In 10.

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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 Dallas’ Methodist Medical Center. 


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