Don't Forget to Do This

Four days.

That is how long it took a husband and wife to locate each other in the aftermath of September 11th.

I've mentioned this couple here before but as Hurricane Irene bears down on New York City, their story bears repeating.

The couple lived in one of the luxury high-rise apartment buildings near Ground Zero. When they heard the explosions of the planes hitting the Twin Towers, instead of turning on the television, they went outside. He grabbed his wallet and keys. She grabbed her cellphone.

When the towers fell, the pandemonium forcibly separated them. The NYPD evacuated them on different boats, to different cities in New Jersey. He found his way to a friend's house; she spent that first night in an elementary school gym.

He called her repeatedly on her cell, but her service was out, and the battery eventually died. She borrowed a working phone from a fellow evacuee and called a friend, but they didn't know where he was.

On September 12th, he learned she was at the elementary school shelter and he rushed to find her. By the time he arrived, she'd left to look for him. And so it went.

For four days.

Today, as you stock up on clean water, put fresh batteries in your flashlights, and put your passports, cash and a change of clothes in a go bag by the front door, please also take a few minutes to confer with your family and agree that if you all are separated or evacuated separately, you will all call the same person to let them know where you are.

This person should live outside of your home city or area. They should know how to get in touch with the people you care about, including in-laws and best friends. They should be someone who can be counted on to coordinate messages between evacuated family members.

You know, messages like, "Honey, stay in the elementary school gym; I'm on my way."

This morning, my sister, my husband and I agreed that if we're evacuated from New York City separately, we will all call my mother-in-law. She lives in Missouri, so Hurricane Irene is unlikely to knock out her phone service. She is the keeper of addresses and birthdates, anniversaries and phone numbers. We know we can count on her to notify my dad and sister, to call my best friend in Maryland if necessary, to handle a five-way message relay if it comes to that.

FEMA has several really great suggestions for keeping your family safe in a disaster. You can check them out here.

And they've added some cool digital tools for disaster preparedness, as well.

Here's hoping you never need to use them.