Getting ready for emergencies just got easier

As lost children and long separations continue to haunt families in the aftermath of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina–and as a whole new season of hurricanes begins–emergency responders are urging parents and educators to plan better for disasters.

Children and school staff need to know how to reconnect with their families if emergency evacuations disrupt schools, close roads, down telephone lines, and overwhelm cell phone towers.

To help families, educators, and communities respond more effectively when disaster strikes, a New Jersey communications company has launched a new, low-cost service that loads many of the nation’s top emergency management resources into a single, user-friendly web site.

Called Ready-or-Not, the web site features an impressive array of content providers ranging from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to the Mayo Clinic and the National Next of Kin Registry.

Subscribers also can tailor-make the site to meet local or state needs and concerns. For example, the Louisiana Educators Association has included high-quality public service videos that help parents understand the importance of advance planning.

Tips range from creating a plan, protecting family records, and accessing parent and teacher resources, to dealing with pets, reconnecting with far-flung relatives, and supporting family members with disabilities.

Launched in April, the non-commercial service is designed to help parents and educators find available resources quickly and easily, according to Fred Campbell, managing director and founder of The Network IQ, the company that developed Ready-or-Not. According to Campbell, the idea for the site was inspired by the disastrous lack of communications and coordinated response before, during, and after Hurricanes Rita and Katrina.

“The was no reason New Orleans kids and their families had to be so devastated by Hurricanes Rita and Katrina,” said Campbell. “If there was time to give these storms names, there was time to get a response plan in action–and that did not happen.” Since schools typically play a critical role in most emergency response plans, linking all of the resources to the school or district web site might help raise community awareness regarding the need to plan, as well as speed parents’ access to needed services, school leaders say.

“What I like about the Ready-or-Not program is that it brings all the disaster preparedness, disaster response, and disaster recovery information together from so many different original sources,” said John Polomano, superintendent of the Bordentown Regional School District in central New Jersey. “It is ‘one-stop shopping’ with everything centralized for easy use.”

Bordentown’s Ready-or-Not web site includes local police, fire department, and emergency management information. Links to New Jersey state resources are also listed, along with national sites such as the American Red Cross and the National Weather Service.

The price is affordable for even the most cash-strapped schools and nonprofit organizations. A full-year subscription is only $279, while renewals are just $159. With federal officials urging more self-reliance and greater planning by individuals, families, and communities in Katrina’s wake–and in response to growing concerns regarding an impending pandemic flu–the affordable service comes at a critical time. While most educators have more questions than answers at this point in preparing for pandemics, terrorist threats, bioterrorism, and natural disasters, linking all available resources together in one parent-friendly web site is a good place to start.

“The school and the community are intrinsically tied together, so the more we can share the better,” Polomano said. “As word spreads about the great utility of the Ready-or-Not program, I think we will see many people who have no direct connection with Bordentown schools taking full advantage of the service.”

Campbell plans regular updates to the site as more information becomes available. “We are getting feedback that our approach may be a simple, common-sense addition to better risk management for school systems,” he said. Link: Ready-or-Not

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