Tuesday, November 13, 2018

How to Find Someone After a Disaster

As the California wildfires continue to rage, one of the difficult tasks responders have now is finding people who haven't been heard from since before the fires started.  If there is a wide-spread disaster that takes down all communications and scatters people far and wide, how do you go about finding a missing friend or loved one?  Consider these options...

  • Have an emergency communications plan in place BEFORE a disaster happens.  Make sure all family members--and friends too if they are part of your planning efforts-- know the plan so everyone will know who to contact (a central person to call that can let everyone else know you are OK) in the event of a disaster.
  • Make liberal use of social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, reddit, etc) to either let everyone know you are OK or search for a missing person.  Note that when using social media to search for a missing person it is a standard that you have already filed a police report and include the police contact info and case number in addition to a picture and other identifying information about the missing person; this ensures that the search is on the up and up and a stalker, for example, isn't looking for their victim.
  • If you are in a disaster area or looking for someone in a disaster area, be sure to check in on Safe and Well and mark yourself as safe on Facebook.
  • File a missing person report at the police department in the local jurisdiction where the person was last known to be.  Note you may need to do this at another agency (a neighboring town, a nearby city) if the town itself has been wiped off the map.
  • Determine if the local disaster response agency has set up a missing person assistance center and contact them directly (examples here and here).
  • Find ways to get as wide-spread publicity about your missing person as possible (example here).
  • Put together as much information as you can on your missing person before you go to the police or social media (list of info here).
  • Make a missing person flyer that includes a couple of photos as well as identifying information and contact information.
  • Make a missing person kit which includes photos and a description of each family member, fingerprints, source for dental records, and DNA samples.
  • Google for a list of local emergency shelters where people in the disaster area have been sent to and either visit or call each one looking for your missing loved one.
  • You can also contact the hospitals/coroner's office near the disaster area (note that this may or may not be useful as hospitals usually can't give out personal information and all of these places may be overwhelmed if there is a disaster with lots of victims).
  • If you are looking for an American citizen in a foreign country after a disaster, call the Department of State.
  • Send text messages to the missing person/to your emergency contact in addition to trying to call, usually texts will go through when calls don't.
  • Contact the local Search and Rescue agency.  These are usually volunteer groups that help after a disaster and can provide more information on how to go about your search or tell you how to enlist their help.

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