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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

What the Women's World Cup Can Teach About Disasters

by Patricia Billinger
We paused for this photo (mom's elbow at left).
Dad disappeared into the crowd.
On Sunday, my husband, mother, father and I were among the more than 50,000 jubilant fans swarming to BC Place in Vancouver for the Women’s World Cup Finals.

The buzz among the crowd was palpable. Red, white and blue overtook the color spectrum, and fans decked out in their country’s colors thronged in every direction. We paused to take a photo.
And then we realized that my dad had continued on and disappeared somewhere into the swelling crowd.

He had no ticket – my mother had both of theirs.
He had no cell phone, because he hadn’t wanted to risk incurring exorbitant international usage fees.
And they had no emergency meet-up plan. It hadn’t dawned on them that they might get separated.

We told my mom to stay put by a landmark (the statues of runner Terry Fox), and we fanned out in a widening circle in search of him. It was nearly impossible to tell one fan from another – everyone was wearing red, white and blue! Within 100 yards in either direction, the crush of the crowd became so tight that it was impossible to see past more than a few fans in any direction.

Imagine trying to find someone in this crowd,
 everyone wearing the same colors. Photo by Patricia Billinger
We retraced our steps, sought higher ground to look out over the crowd, circled back to my mom twice. No luck. My mom’s panic rose as she considered the possibility that one or both of them might miss this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

For me, the minor personal emergency really drove home the importance of a message we at the Red Cross tell the public all the time: it is so important to have an emergency communications plan. Your plan should include an emergency meet-up location and a plan for how you’ll communicate if you can’t do so by cell phone.

The stress of being disconnected from my dad and unable to reach him was intense – but nothing remotely comparable to the fear and anxiety that accompanies being separated from your loved ones during a real emergency.

Having a plan gives you "hope" in the most dire
of circumstances. Excuse the pun.
Photo by Patricia Billinger
The worst thing that could happen to my parents that day was they could miss an amazing and historic soccer match.

During a disaster, your life, safety and property are at risk. Time is of the essence; you may not have time to circle in search of a husband, wife, daughter, son or pet.

During a disaster, there is a good chance that you won’t be able to reach each other by cell phone – cell towers get damaged or inundated, people flee without their phones, batteries die, phones get dropped or damaged.

During a disaster, you may not be surrounded by 50,000 fans dressed alike, but you may be evacuating alongside hundreds or thousands of other people. And unlike the limited geographic area of a city stadium, you may find yourself wondering which of many routes your loved ones took, which shelter they fled to – did they make it to a shelter at all? – which town they may be in.

Prior to the USWNT match, I recalled seeing media coverage of increased potential terrorist threats against the U.S. for the 4th of July weekend. A small part of me worried whether the World Cup match would be targeted. Thankfully, peace prevailed and the weekend was without incident – but it also got me thinking about what we would have done in such a scenario when we couldn’t even find each other amid the peaceful pre-game chaos.

Reconnecting with family feels a lot like this.
Photo by Patricia Billinger
Ultimately, our story has a happy ending: as the crowd dispersed into the stadium, my parents found each other and made it to our seats in time to watch the U.S. score 5 goals, the most ever scored in a Women’s World Cup Final. All was right in the world.

But we learned our lesson, and hopefully you can learn from our mistake. The next time you settle in to enjoy your favorite sport on TV, I encourage you to take a few minutes to make your emergency game plan. Sit down with your loved ones over half-time and talk about where you’ll meet up and how you’ll get in touch if disaster strikes. You can find sample plans, tips and specific steps to incorporate into your plan here: http://www.redcross.org/prepare/location/home-family/plan .

You may never need it, but you'll be glad you have it so that you can focus on more pleasant things. Like winning the World Cup.


1 comment:

  1. Great story. My pulse went up when I thought of myself in the same situation. It could be at an airport, a shopping mall or a local festival. Easy to get caught up in the crowd. Planning rocks!

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