From the Homefront: Preparing for the worst

Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, chief of the office of aviation forces at Coast Guard headquarters, for 14 years. She currently serves as an advisor for the Military Family Advisory Network.

Written by Shelley Kimball

From the Homefront: Preparing for the worst

Emergency response is an issue for Coastie, whether or not you wear the uniform. Semper Paratus is a way of life for family members, too.

In times of crisis, figuring out where to go and what to do is that much more difficult. So we put together a list of emergencies and crises that might befall Coastie families with directions on how to get help. Print or bookmark this page — we hope you never need it.

Coast Guard emergencies

I think this is something we all fear, and it is a big reason for this column.

If there is a mishap, and you are worried that your Coastie is in harm’s way:

Portrait of Shelley Kimball.

Portrait of Shelley Kimball.

First of all, know that all energy during a mishap is devoted to emergency response, so information will be slow to emerge. If you are afraid it is your Coastie involved, stay calm and sit tight. Someone will contact you as soon as possible. Keep the lines of communication clear.

I know it is hard, but be wary of social media during these times. It may not be official. It may not be accurate. It’s crucial for the Coast Guard to communicate to the family members and media in time. Information will change by the second or the minute, so wait until someone from the Coast Guard releases something official.

Don’t speculate. Try to avoid coming up with scenarios because that can upset yourself and others. As hard as it is, wait to find out the truth.

If the emergency does not involve your family member, but it does involve your duty station, stand by for information from your ombudsman or the unit’s commanding officer. Don’t know who your ombudsman is? Now is the time to rectify that. Go to the Coast Guard Ombudsman Registry page now, then click the link at the bottom right to find your ombudsman. Don’t give up if you don’t hear back right away. Make this connection – it can be one of your strongest supports in a crisis.

If the absolute worst happens: It pains me to even bring it up, but a Casualty Assistance Calls Officer would be assigned to usher a surviving family member though the funeral and benefits process. And, of course, a chaplain would be available if needed.

If there is an emergency at home, and your Coastie is deployed or otherwise hard to reach:

There are three options here: going through your active duty member’s supervisor, getting help from your ombudsman, and going through the Red Cross.

Contact your active duty member’s supervisor or command. Now is the time to get the name and phone number in a safe place. If your Coastie is not available to help you track that information down, this list of Coast Guard units can help you get started.

Ombudsman ProgramContact your ombudsman. Go to the Coast Guard Ombudsman Registry page now, then click the link at the bottom right to find your ombudsman. It is really hard for ombudsmen to find family members unless the families reach out to them, so do them a favor and connect with ombudsmen before you need them.

Contact the Red Cross – it has a process set up for these kinds of situations. The Red Cross regularly delivers emergency messages to service members. Call 877-272-7337. Be ready with some specific information. The Red Cross will need to know the service member’s name, rank, branch of service, social security number, date of birth, military unit address and information about a deployment address, if applicable.

Family emergencies:

Before you go any further, take out your phone, and store an emergency contact. It’s really easy. Just store the word ICE in the address book with the phone number of someone to contact in case of emergency if you are somehow incapacitated.

Develop a family emergency plan now to cover as many bases as possible. This link has an easily downloadable family plan document that will help you put together contact information, insurance policy numbers and checklists for records you may need in a crisis. Download and print the Contact Card Form, which lists emergency contact numbers and meeting locations when family members are separated.

If a chaplain can be helpful, you can find more information here.

Health crises

First and foremost, call 911 or go to the emergency room when you need immediate help. I know that I worry about whether an ER visit will be reimbursed by Tricare. Here’s some guidance on that. It defines emergencies, and it explains the difference between going to an emergency room, and going to an urgent care clinic. You can also call the Tricare Nurse Advice Line at 800-874-2273 day or night. They can answer your questions about urgent care or help you find the closest emergency room.

Mental health crisis: Coast Guard Support can provide immediate help and information for reaching mental healthcare providers. Click this link for information, and for immediate help, choose the box at the top labeled More Contact Options. It will provide automatic links to an online session or a callback. You can also call directly at 855-CGSUPRT.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call any time, day or night: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This 24-hour hour, toll-free, line is a confidential hotline for anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

CG-SUPRTOr call the Military Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255, press 1. Trained responders are waiting 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to provide confidential support and assistance.

The Coast Guard Suicide Prevention Program provides an overview of the confidential support that is available. There is a great list of additional resources here, too.

Sexual assault or domestic violence: If you have been assaulted, first call 911.

The Coast Guard’s office of work-life has a specialized program, the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program, that provides support and information. There is a link directly on that page to report an assault.

Also within that program, you can find access to a sexual assault response coordinator in your area who can help.

However, a SARC will not file an official report. The SARC can help with finding local resources such as a rape crisis center, which can provide advocacy and counseling. The sexual assault program is designed for active duty personnel, but families will not be turned away from seeking help.

You can also get help through Coast Guard Support, then choose the box at the top labeled More Contact Options. It will provide automatic links to an online session or a callback. You can also call directly at 855-CGSUPRT.

The DoD Safe Helpine is also available to Coasties. You can click, call 1-877-995-5247, or text 55-247 for assistance 24/7.

U.S. Coast Guard Image.

U.S. Coast Guard Image.

If you are in a mandatory reporting state like California, and you want to protect the option for a restricted report, notify only the sexual assault response coordinator through Coast Guard Work-Life. A restricted report is one in which there is no notification to the Coast Guard member’s command or Coast Guard Investigative Services. An unrestricted report is used when a victim requests help through the Coast Guard command and requires reporting.

Hurricanes and natural disasters

Let’s start with Ready Coast Guard, which gives you an overview of how to prepare now for unforeseen emergencies. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, also has a great site for emergency preparedness at home.

That family plan I mentioned earlier is going to come into play here, too. The link for the family plan document will help you put together the list of important information you may need in case you have to evacuate, and the Contact Card Form, is a handy card for your wallet that lists emergency contact numbers and meeting locations when family members are separated.

As for evacuating, make sure to follow all of the required steps so you get reimbursed. This link is one of my favorites for getting all of the appropriate documents in order. If families are to receive reimbursement for an evacuation order, the order must be first authorized by command, and then families are issued official evacuation travel orders. That is not to say you can’t evacuate an area whenever you want, but if you plan to get reimbursed by the Coast Guard, you need to follow all of the steps and get those official orders.

The evacuation information may come through he ombudsman, so be on the lookout for that. If you are not connecting to the ombudsman because you don’t want newsletters and day-to-day information, ask to be put on an emergency information list. The ombudsmen are prepared to have to lists of contacts.

Financial difficulties

There are a few places to go for help if you find yourself in a financial emergency.

Logo_CGMA_LargeThe main objective for Coast Guard Mutual Assistance is to provide assistance to Coasties who are in some sort of financial crisis. You can check your eligibility and apply for assistance online. To find a mutual assistance contact near you, take a look at the interactive map.

The Coast Guard Foundation, which is a nonprofit that serves Coast Guard members and their families, can also provide financial relief assistance in certain situations.

Coast Guard Supportalso has some financial readiness resources. The link has some helpful information, or you can call 855-CG SUPRT to speak with someone about where to go for help.

Legal Assistance: Coast Guard legal assistance is available to active duty members, dependents and retirees at no cost. It can provide help with powers of attorney, identity theft, or finding an attorney, among other issues.

For those wanting to be sure their legal affairs are in order before they need help, there is a Legal Readiness Checklist available, too.

Health Safety and Work Life App: One small app carries much of this information. You can download it to your phone, tablet or computer to have it at the ready no matter where you are.

What kinds of emergency situations would you add? Where have you found help when you needed it? Share your experiences in the comments section below!

The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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