This past year we marked the 15th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2011, or “9-11” as most Americans refer to it.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years. You probably remember exactly where you were when you heard the news, even if you weren’t in the United States at the time. I clearly remember feeling dumb with disbelief, unable to process such acts. I remember driving home from work on a highway that felt eerily different, as if every driver were numb and shocked at the same time. I remember the urgent tug toward my children, and the feelings that swung between gratitude for our safety and painful shards of profound sorrow over others’ inconceivable losses.
So much has changed since then. We in the U.S. are aware of nationwide security alert levels, as well as a greater sense of shared responsibility. The Department of Homeland Security’s “If you see something, say something” campaign, for example, encourages average citizens to immediately report anything suspicious. Databases coupled with advanced technologies help law enforcement thwart and catch would-be actors.
But something caught my eye in the newspaper. We have become so dependent on technology, would we know how to function without it? The U.S. military thinks it’s important to remember how. All service branches are undergoing training that prepares them to function in scenarios that could hamper or disable modern technology.
What about your own family? Would you know how to navigate an emergency if cell signals were down? It makes sense to think about some ways to be in touch and stay safe in the event that our electronic helpers go dark.
Two things you can do right away are to pack an emergency kit that contains essential supplies and identify a meeting place that every family member can head to if your home is unavailable. The emergency kit should include water, nonperishable food, first aid items, flashlights and radio, copies of ID documents, and any essential medications. The address of the meeting place should be known to any children old enough to memorize it, and written for those who aren’t.
Another thing to do, if you are living in a country where you do not hold citizenship, is register with your country’s embassy in your host location. They may be able to offer assistance in the event of an emergency. Provide them with land line phone numbers, if available, in case mobile service is compromised.
Most people these days keep extensive contact lists in their phones, and therefore tend to remember fewer numbers themselves. But in case of emergency, keep the number for your child’s school or your neighbor stored somewhere else, like in a day diary or even on a slip of paper in your wallet. Since so many public telephones have been removed since the advent of mobile phones, these may be hard to find. But in an emergency, you or a child may be able to access a land line from other sources like a library, police station, or post office. Also to note, people in the NYC metro area on 9-11 had trouble getting cellular service.
At the very least, an obvious measure is to make sure all children know their street address. Consider giving each child a small card with the address and other pertinent information, along with some local currency for emergencies only. They may be able to find their way home, or find help in getting there. Of course, depending on your local circumstances and child’s age, you may want to coach him or her to stay put.
Certainly every emergency is different, and each location has its own unique challenges. Emergencies may be weather-related, political, or terrorist activity. Know your local surroundings and plan accordingly. Then, having some low-tech options can help enormously if your regular communication channels are disrupted.
Written by Ellen Harris, GMS, Living Abroad’s International Product Director
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