Expect the Unexpected

  • Members of the US Foreign Service family -- whether a single or married employee, or a family member -- move every few years. The more information you have about personnel preparedness, the more you know about department procedures, regulations and allowances - the better you can cope with the variety of events you are likely to encounter at some point in your tours overseas and at home.

Every day U. S. Government employees and family members live with the possibility of a sudden departure from an overseas post — in response to political unrest, natural disaster, death in the family, divorce, family crisis, or medical emergency. Occasionally, you may need to shelter in place at your home or in the embassy or consulate for a few days rather than leave the country. Personal, political, family, and medical emergencies are more complicated when they happen overseas; being as prepared as possible will help you maximize your control over the situation.

  • Be familiar with the host country – the customs, traditions, local language, potential for crisis and more.  The Foreign Service Institute Transition Center has a wealth of post-specific information to share.
  • Have a personal preparedness plan – Make sure every member of the family have personal and post-specific emergency contact numbers, directions to rally points, addresses of friends and other embassies who can assist in an emergency. Make sure the CLO and Human Resources Officer (HRO) have personal contact information (email and phone) for you and your dependents.  For more information on making a personal preparedness plan go to the Department of Homeland Security website.
  • Have a plan for the care of household and domestic employees and your pets. For more information about pets please go to the Transition Center website.
  • Develop a plan for family and friends communication – Discuss with your immediate/extended family and friends at home how they should contact you in case of an emergency at post. Provide them with the 24/7 emergency number for the State Department’s Operations Center 202-647-1512.
  • Organize Your Personal Affairs – Regardless of your family size, you should have your legal, financial and medical affairs in order. Contact the Department’s Employee Resource Program, WorkLife4You and ask about the Enhanced Legal benefit which offers assistance with a lawyer to discuss options for preparing important documents.
  • Establish individual credit cards for emergencies and be sure you have a credit card limit of at least $20,000 in the event you initially need to cover costs associated with a sudden departure from post.  There is no direct billing for temporary housing during an evacuation and it may take several weeks to receive voucher reimbursement.  Alternately, talk with your agency/bureau about getting a government travel card. With a government travel card you can call the card and ask to be placed on “evacuation status” which will extend the terms and increase the limit.
  • Purchase medical and evacuation insurance for Members of Household MOH.
  • Purchase personal property insurance for your storage and household effects HHE, make sure it provides adequate coverage for all events including flooding and acts of war.  Keep a digital inventory of your possession at post, as well as those in storage.
  • Have ready to hand carry important documents for every member of the family carry in a waterproof case the following documents: Legal documents (Birth/Marriage certificates, wills, contracts, Power of Attorney, etc.) passports, naturalization papers, Immunization cards, cash (in small denominations and multiple currencies), credit cards, prescriptions, school records, IEP for children with special needs, employment records (SF-50) for family members, HHE inventory, and US driver’s license.
Overseas Crisis Readiness

An online resource for employees, family members, and members of household to prepare for a crisis overseas. Just click on the link above and anyone can take this approximating one hour course online – no need to register.  Some topics covered in this resource are:

  • Crisis preparations you can do  before and upon arrival at post,
  • Advises how the Department of State ensures mission community safety and describes the responsibilities of post personnel who have roles during a crisis.
  • Shares resilience techniques to facilitate recovery after a crisis.
  • Provides a template for creating a personal crisis preparedness plan.
Advanced Security Overseas Seminar (MQ912)

Are you eligible to enroll? Has it been 5 years since you completed the Security Overseas Seminar (SOS—MQ911)? If so, you are eligible!

This online course addresses a range of safety and security issues that employees and their families may face overseas. Security experts offer guidance on a range of topics, including:

  • Personal Security
  • Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • Sexual Assault Awareness
  • Counterintelligence
  • Hostage Survival
  • Fire Safety
  • Crisis Management

There are many interactive exercises in this seminar as well an opportunity to test out of material you may be familiar with.  It fulfills the mandatory security refresher training for all foreign affairs personnel serving under Chief of Mission Authority.

Sheltering in Place – Emergency 72-hour Kit

Whether it is a house fire, an earthquake or an emergency evacuation, having an Emergency 72-hour kit (backpack or duffle bag) for each member of the family, including your pet that you can grab in an instant is vital.  Be sure to update your kit periodically to insure that all food, water, medications are fresh, all clothing fits, personal documents and credit cards are up-to-date and batteries are charged.   The 72-hour kit should include: a three-day supply of nonperishable food and water per person, fuel and light (flashlight, candles, matches, flares), change of clothing to include clothing/bedding to keep you warm, medication, cash, first aid supplies, sanitary  and toilet supplies and important documents. If you have children, small games/toys are important as they will provide some comfort and entertainment during a stressful time.  Guidance for putting together an emergency pack can be found on the American Red Cross website.

Getting Ready to Leave – Pack a “Go-Bag”

A “go-bag” is just as it sounds, the bag you will pick up when you are ready to leave post.  You can have a go-bag prepack or you can print a list of items for packing your bag just before you leave.  Each member of the family should have a bag that is manageable for them to transport.  Include in your bag all the documentation mentioned above, weather appropriate clothing, work appropriate clothing, something to entertain (toys, games, books, etc.), some snacks and water, necessary medical items such as drug/eye glass prescriptions and medical records, toiletries and sanitary items, cell phones and power cords, cash and credit cards, and other items that can sustain you for a short while.

Earthquake Safety at Post

Many of the buildings the Department of State owns or leases are in areas of moderate to high seismic hazard  The probability of a major earthquake occurring during an individual’s tour at a particular post is remote. However, it is prudent to prepare for an earthquake ahead of time when living in an area where one may occur.

The purpose of this guide is to provide you with some tips on how you can better prepare for and react during and after an earthquake. The need for personal preparedness cannot be overemphasized. Updating or establishing an “earthquake kit” will help employees and their families cope before and in the aftermath of a major earthquake. Simple and inexpensive things you can do now will help reduce injuries and protect belongings.

Before an Earthquake

The first step is to look around your home and identify all unsecured objects that might fall during shaking. START NOW by moving heavy furniture, such as bookcases, away from beds, couches, and other places where people sit or sleep. Also make sure that exit paths are clear of clutter. The following are things you can do to protect yourself, your family, and your property in the event of an earthquake.

Things to discuss with your GSO or Facilities Maintenance Engineer at post:

  • Repair defective electrical wiring, leaky gas lines, and inflexible utility connections. Work with GSO and Facilities to make timely repairs. Encourage GSO/Facilities Maintenance to install flexible pipe fittings to avoid gas or water leaks. Flexible fittings are more resistant to breakage.
  • Never work on gas or electrical lines yourself.
  • Ask Facilities to bolt down and secure to the wall your water heater, refrigerator, furnace, and gas appliances. If recommended by Facilities, have an automatic gas shut-off valve installed that is triggered by strong vibrations.
  • Make sure all overhead lighting fixtures are anchored.

Things you can do:

  • Place large or heavy objects on lower shelves. Fasten shelves, mirrors, and large picture frames to walls. Brace high and top-heavy objects.
  • Store bottled foods, glass, china, and other breakables on low shelves or in cabinets that fasten shut.
  • Use putty or quake gel to secure decorative bowls and objects to shelves.
  • Buy earthquake safety straps, fasteners, and adhesives you can easily use to secure your belongings.
  • Provide stops, bumpers, or snubbers to limit the range of movement if the item is on vibration isolators or can slide or swing.
  • Hold earthquake drills with your family members: Drop, cover, and hold on!
  • Locate safe spots in each room under a sturdy table or against an inside wall. Reinforce and practice this plan by moving to these places during each drill.

During an Earthquake

Minimize your movements during an earthquake to a few steps to a nearby safe place. Stay indoors until the shaking has stopped and you are sure exiting is safe.

If you are indoors

  • Take cover under a sturdy desk, table or bench, or against an inside wall and hold on. If there isn’t a table or desk near you, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building.
  • Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture.
  • Stay in bed – if you are there when the earthquake strikes – hold on and protect your head with a pillow, unless you are under a heavy light fixture that could fall. In that case, move to the nearest safe place.
  • Use a doorway for shelter only if it is in close proximity to you and if you know it is a strongly supported, load-bearing doorway.
  • Stay inside until shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. Most injuries during earthquakes occur when people are hit by falling objects when entering into or exiting from buildings.
  • Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on.
  • DO NOT use the elevators.

If you are outdoors

  • Stay there.
  • Move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires.

If you are in a moving vehicle

  • Stop as quickly as safety permits and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires.
  • Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped, watching for road and bridge damage.

If you are trapped under debris

  • Do not light a match.
  • Do not move about or kick up dust.
  • Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing.
  • Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can locate you. Use a whistle if one is available. Shout only as a last resort – shouting can cause you to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.
  • After an Earthquake
  • Be prepared for aftershocks. These secondary shockwaves are usually less violent than the main quake but can be strong enough to do additional damage to weakened structures.
  • Open cabinets cautiously. Beware of objects that can fall off shelves.
  • Stay away from damaged areas unless your assistance has been specifically requested by police, fire, or relief organizations.
  • Be aware of possible tsunamis if you live in coastal areas. These are also known as seismic sea waves (mistakenly called “tidal waves”). When local authorities issue a tsunami warning, assume that a series of dangerous waves is on the way. Stay away from the beach and try to move inland or to higher ground.

Resources

Work Life 4 You (WL4Y) offers 24/7 assistance to help Department of State employees and their family members locate relief organizations and other resources to assist earthquake victims. They have specialists standing by to assist, call 866-552-4748, 800-873-1322 or send an email to Specialist@LifeCare.com.

USAID Staff Care ensures the wellbeing and work-life balance of USAID’s total workforce (all hiring categories) and their dependents through a range of programs and services. USAID has partnered with Federal Occupational Health to deliver a secure confidential Staff Care website that provides a central location to access the Employee Assistance / Employee Resilience Program, Wellness, Work-Life, and Child Subsidy Programs. Services are available 24/7.

Employee Consultation Service (ECS)  is staffed by licensed clinical social workers who can provide confidential counseling to Foreign Service Officers and Civil Service employees in the Department of State. These services are offered locally and worldwide. Family members who are overseas with the Foreign Service Officer may receive assistance if their issues related to the FSO’s workplace functioning. Contact at 703-812-2257 or MEDECS@state.gov

Contingency Planning for Single Parents and Tandem Couples with Children

During any tour, a crisis can occur which requires the employee to work long hours.  Arranging for the child to stay with friends reassures the child and allows the employee to concentrate on his/her job. Some crisis situations may require the sudden departure of family members and non-emergency personnel. Tandem couples with children and single parent employees should determine early in their assignment if they are designated emergency personnel.   Depending on the employee’s position and the circumstances at post, it may be possible for a parent, with permission, to accompany the child(ren) to the safehaven.  In other cases this may not be possible.

As a contingency plan, the parent(s) should consider identifying an official American employee or American family member who is willing to take care of any issues that may arise when the parent(s) is/are unable to be physically present.    This person must be able to assume responsibility for the care of the dependents, authorize medical treatment, and accompany the minor child on a medevac or evacuation from post.

Discuss with long, and short, term providers the responsibilities and liabilities for caring for your child(ren).  Try to cover as many possible scenarios as you can think of, discussing and deciding on how the provider should respond.

Important Factors to Consider When Choosing a Safehaven

  • Children’s needs and ages
  • Child(ren)’s comfort with caregiver and caregiver’s willingness and ability to adequately care for the child(ren)
  • School (including for Special Needs Children, acceptance of the Individual Education Plan (IEP))
  • Education:  Note that there is no education allowance in the United States or at an alternate foreign safehaven.  Be sure to hand carry all school records and make sure they are up to date.
  • Financial:  It is important to consider the financial arrangements with the individual who may be caring for your child.
  • Communication:  During a crisis it may not be possible to make regular phone calls or email.  Discuss this with the child in advance.

Through contingency planning, the parent can provide a supportive and understanding environment for the child evacuee that will lay the foundation for the child and parent to work through the crisis and move together toward a period of positive growth.

Certificate of Acceptance as Guardian or Escort and Travel Authorization letters

Exit control laws of the host country may affect whether or not the U.S. citizen minor will be permitted to travel.  In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated new procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child’s travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian if they are not present.  Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate easier entry/departure.

Special Instructions related to the Execution of Powers of Attorney

Creating a limited Power of Attorney (POA) may be a way to help a child leave the country with only one parent, another adult, or travel to the child’s final destination.  Whether the child is traveling alone or not, the caregiver receiving the child should have the ability to make legal or medical decisions. Have plenty of notarized copies of a POA in case you need to leave it on file with a department or institution.

Special Considerations for Singles with children:

A power of attorney will not allow the provider to enroll/ register the child(ren) for services that the child(ren) would not be eligible for under the care of their parent(s).  For singles who are divorced, you should consult with a lawyer and determine whether you need extra clarification as to the care of children in case you are incapacitated.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future