Archive for the ‘Family and Home’ Category

Spring Forward and Fall Back

Sunday, November 1st, 2015
Daylight Savings Time

Daylight Savings Time

It is that time of year again when we turn the clocks back one hour and prepare for shorter days. The act of turning the clock back one hour in the fall and advancing it one hour in the spring is a helpful reminder to check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. You should both verify that they are functioning properly and insert new batteries. Remember to do this for both your home and your place of work. Remind your employees to do the same for the safety of their families and homes.

I nearly learned this lesson the hard way as I recently rented a town home with an option to purchase it. I practice what I preach and so replaced the batteries twice yearly. It was not until I had a home inspection performed, in connection with my interest in purchasing the property, that I learned that fresh batteries didn’t help, as the smoke detectors were defective.

The home inspector also surfaced other safety hazards that are serious violations of the local housing code and documented them in a 49-page report. These hazards were not visible to me so I had no idea of the risks to which I was exposed. In particular, the inspector found that the hot water heater had been installed by an unlicensed contractor working without the required permit and that the appliance was recalled by Sear’s for having a defective valve. The homeowner’s unlicensed contractor didn’t install it properly and it leaked carbon monoxide. The homeowner/landlord also ignored repeated communications from Sears offering to replace the hot water heater at no charge. (The inspector and I verified that Sears did have the correct contact information for the landlord. Of course, to be clear, Sears had no way of knowing that the landlord did not properly install the appliance and caused other health hazards. Sears was certainly not at fault.)

As CO exposure kills red blood cells, a simple lab test can determine the volume of dead red cells circulating in the bloodstream. So my primary care physician ordered tests to check for carbon monoxide poisoning and for blood lead levels. Investigation revealed that this particular hazard existed for eight years. One of the previous tenants in the property was a divorced dad with custody of three children, children who were unknowingly breathing in carbon monoxide – not enough to kill them, but enough to cause symptoms. It is a scary thought that you have to extra diligence as not all states require rental permits to verify that tenants are safe. I wanted to share that experience to show why you cannot be too careful.

Back to School Safety Measures

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015
Making Sure She is Safe

Making Sure She is Safe

As students head back to classrooms for the start of the new academic year, the newspapers are reporting on back-to-school topics. One headline, in particular, piqued my interest as it concerns school safety. In the work my business, Prisere LLC, has done for the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, we monitor the progress made in achieving the goals set forth in global disaster risk reduction agreements, which include “Safe Schools”. In this context, “Safe Schools” refers to solid construction of school facilities retrofitted, if necessary, for disaster resilience. It means clear and effective evacuation procedures to ensure the safety of the pupils in the event of a weather-related disaster. In other words, it is what we remember as school fire drills updated for new safety protocols for disaster resilience.

But this particular article addressed school safety from an entirely different perspective. It addressed new technology such as communications consoles and crisis lockdown alert status systems. The technology provides that in the event of an emergency, teachers can press a button to change the status of their classrooms from green for “safe” to red for “threat emerging”. That information is instantly available to all school administration and anyone else who should be alerted. In the event of an emergency, the system will initiate a lockdown, play a recorded message over the public address system and notify first responders. Each of these actions is simultaneously triggered with a single mouse click or button push made by a teacher in the classroom. How sad that we live in an era where these measures are now required.

One a more positive note, this is the time to refresh and update your home and family preparedness plan and to encourage your employees to do the same. Make sure you have a plan in place as to who is authorized to collect the children at school in the event of an emergency, where you will meet one another if your home is no longer accessible, how your children will use mobile communications to send you messages if necessary, etc. Be sure to speak with your children’s school teachers and school administrators so you have a clear understanding of the school’s emergency plans and your family plans. That will be one less thing to worry about in the event of a severe storm or other hazard.

Happy Father’s Day

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

Remembering a Great Father

As we celebrate Father’s Day today, I want to share again the words that had appeared in the “Acknowledgments” to the first edition of Prepare for the Worst, Plan for the Best: Disaster Preparedness and Recovery for Small Businesses:

“I hope that my dad, who is retired, will enjoy mentoring those students and sharing with them his enthusiasm for the natural sciences as he did with me! My dad never missed a parent-teacher’s meeting, never missed a science fair or spelling bee, sacrificed his Saturdays to coach my soccer and Little League teams, and offered every possible encouragement to me. I have fond memories of touring college campuses with my parents during my senior year of high school, as we imagined what my future would be. I wish every young woman could have such a wonderful dad to instill in her confidence and optimism.”

Two months before those words were published, my dad was admitted to the hospital for coronary bypass surgery. He looked so frail in the hospital bed, his large eyeglasses making his face and body appear small. I wondered if he had the strength, the stamina or the motivation to participate in cardiac rehab, which would be the next step after discharge from the hospital. Recovering from bypass surgery would be daunting for anyone, but my dad was attempting it after caring for my mother following her traumatic brain injury. He must have felt overwhelmed and I knew that there was something I needed to do.

Sheck Cho, my editor at Wiley, was able to get me a complimentary author’s copy of the book in advance of the official publication date. I brought it to the hospital where I read the “Acknowledgments” to my parents. They were absolutely stunned, as they had been unaware that I had a publishing contract with John Wiley & Sons Inc. or that I had written a manuscript.  I had intended to surprise my dad with the book when it would be published in October 2002, but after seeing his fragile state, I didn’t want to delay two months for the book to be “official”. Tears formed in my dad’s eyes as he heard the words from the “Acknowledgments” and then he drifted off to sleep. I wondered if I had done the right thing, to provoke such emotion when he was weakened.

The next morning I returned to hear the buzz in the hospital: my dad was like a lion that had roared. Every physician, nurse and member of the hospital staff who had entered his room had to read the “Acknowledgments” to my book, as my dad proudly announced to anyone and everyone “my daughter wrote that!” Everyone told me that this was the perfect morale booster at the ideal time. My dad went on to participate with great enthusiasm in cardiac rehab, impressing his physical therapist with his dedication. For the remaining years of his life, he went to the gym three times a week without fail. He was very disciplined.

My dad died last year, just two days before Christmas. I was alone with him in hospice when he took his last breath. I am grateful for our last conversation the day before his death. His obituary (shown here) appeared in the Providence Journal and was my hardest writing assignment ever. This is our first Father’s Day without him. As we celebrate Father’s Day today, I hope everyone takes the opportunity to say what needs to be said, because there may never be another opportunity to say it.

Little Darth Vader Is a Role Model

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

A Little Boy With A Big Heart

As I write this blog posting, small business owners and their employees are struggling to recover from disasters, such as severe wildfires in Colorado and New Mexico. The story of Max Page puts things in perspective.

Today Max is undergoing open-heart surgery in Los Angeles. Max is better known as the child who played Darth Vader in Volkswagen’s 2011 Super Bowl commercial. He is a seven-year-old boy born with a congenital heart defect. The surgery will replace his pulmonary valve and fix a hole in his heart. Max uses the celebrity that came from his television commercial to raise money for other children with heart defects, as he is an ambassador for Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. Click here to support his cause.

The agency that developed the Volkswagen commercial released an e-mail from Max’s mother, Jennifer, which reads in part:

We told Max and Els [Max’s brother] Sunday afternoon. Initially, Max was crying and repeating how scared how he was. We unpeeled the layers by asking what exactly he was afraid of and tackled each issue as he could verbalize it. Blood draws, spending the night in the hospital and hurting are the big three. He was also very sad that summer would be in rest in recovery instead of playing baseball, golf and traveling. Around bedtime he asked if I would stay up with him and talk. He wanted to make a “CAN DO” list. So we wrote out all the things he can do so he could focus on those. Then he said we definitely had to “Fun Up” the house. So we went and got Els out of bed and spent the next hour redesigning each room with a theme, special rules and secret codes. In the Library (Els Room) we have to read with flashlights. On Whisper Lane (the hallway) you have to whisper. Going up the stairs you have to sing “Take me out to the ball game”. The most favorite is the garage—Explode Zone—science experiments and art projects, the messier the better.

Last night, I wanted to make sure he was doing as well as he seemed. He said, “Mom I don’t have a choice. I have to go through it. I don’t like it and it’s still scary—but I have to.  So I think I might as well go through it with a good attitude.” So as we hop on Max’s coattails to go on this ride—we too, shall do it with a good attitude. Though we will still tremble with tears and have our overwhelming moments—we will focus on the “CAN DO” and enjoy our Fun Up House.

Mighty Max wants me to include one more thing—one of the lines he uses when he speaks to groups.

“Kids, if you use your FORCE and dream big, you can achieve anything. We may be small—but we’re mighty!”

Max and his family show humor and courage in not only facing adversity, but are using it to help others. Let’s keep Max in our prayers today and send our best wishes for his speedy recovery.

Digital Spring Cleaning

Monday, May 7th, 2012
Lily of the Valley

Spring Lilies of the Valley

In addition to the usual housekeeping tasks associated with spring cleaning, I am completing a digital cleaning project for my business. It doesn’t provide the same sense of satisfaction as routine housework in that I don’t have the gratification of seeing clutter or dust removed. But when I sit down to work at my computer, I feel a sense of calm that comes from order. I recommend this process for all small business owners. It facilitates your business continuity planning, since you will only be backing up and tracking the files and applications that you actually need and regularly use. I began my removing software applications that I no longer use, thereby ending the obligation for their licensing fees. I made certain that all of my current software applications are up to date. I organized my digital media files, including audio, video and graphics, with a tagging system for more efficient retrieval. In case of duplicates, I retained the highest quality file. I made certain that all of my directory and contact information is up to date, streamlined my databases and confirmed my file taxonomy so anyone can find a file without reading my mind. I also deleted all of the junk files. It is great to sit down to the computer in apple-pie order. Next, I am organizing my home and personal files in the same manner. I am also doing the more conventional cleaning and de-cluttering tasks. I have sold or donated over 1,200 books, some of which I have had since high school. One month later, I cannot remember which ones are gone, that is how infrequently I consulted them. I read that one reason for the popularity of e-readers in Japan is that they enable large libraries in small homes. I already feel lighter. This photograph, by the way, is of lilies of the valley that are now ubiquitous in my neighborhood. The lilies and the clean home and office are a sign that spring has arrived.

Photographing Assets

Friday, July 30th, 2010
Worth Recording

Worth Recording

As I look forward to August, I am planning to update my digital photographs and video records of key assets. Digital images help to document hard-to-value assets, such as artwork, for example. I generally use the month of August to get caught up on all of my nagging chores, because most people I need to see are on vacation, so little gets done during this month. It seems that everything is in freeze-frame as we wait to resume normal activity after Labor Day. But particularly with this severe heat and humidity, I’d rather stay indoors and put my home and office in order. Then I can make a fresh start in autumn.

In addition to taking digital photographs of new items or updating records for old ones, I will be scanning in and digitizing key documents for online storage. Of course, these files will also be backed up offsite for remote retrieval. I hope I will never need them, but the peace of mind is priceless. I thought of peace of mind today when looking at the newspaper photographs of the wildfires raging in southern California. Everyone always regrets losing precious memories in the form of family photographs. Make sure yours are safely backed up.

Protecting Children During Disasters

Sunday, July 25th, 2010
Keeping Them Safe

Keeping Them Safe

Save The Children has just published a report, “A National Report Card on Protecting Children During Disasters”, which finds that five years after Hurricane Katrina displaced more than 160,000 children in the Gulf Coast, most states are not fully prepared to protect children in disasters. Fewer than one-quarter of the states have implemented the four basic safeguards to protect children who are in school or child care during disasters, which are:

  • A plan for evacuating children from childcare
  • A plan for protecting children with special needs
  • A plan for evacuating children from schools and
  • A plan for reunifying children with their parents after the disaster

Now is the time to follow up with your child’s school to make sure that they have plans in place and that you know what they are. Only twelve states, including Mississippi and Alabama, met all four requirements.

Getting Sick from Medical Identity Theft

Thursday, July 1st, 2010
Feeling Confident?

Feeling Confident?

Just when you think that the electronic society couldn’t become more inhuman, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, our over-burdened consumer protection agency, alerts us to signs of medical identity theft:

  • You are billed for medical services that you never received.
  • A debt collector contacts you about medical debt you don’t owe.
  • Your credit report shows medical collection notices that are unfamiliar to you.
  • Your health insurer denies your legitimate claim for medical benefits, stating that you have reached the limit allowed under your plan.
  • You are denied insurance coverage because your medical records reveal a pre-existing condition that you don’t have.

Misuse of your identity can arise from dishonest staff in medical offices filing fraudulent insurance claims with your information or someone has been using your insurance information to obtain medical treatment, which can harm your health as well as your finances. The imposter’s medical information, such as his diagnosis of his condition, may appear on your medical record, exposing you to the risk of improper treatment, possibly leading to injury, illness or death.

In addition to being vigilant about protecting your personal documents, examine your explanation of benefits sent to you each time your insurer pays a claim on your behalf. I used to discard those without reading them. I don’t do that any more; now I look at them carefully and when I discard them, I use a document shredder.

Let’s Reach Out and Be Aware

Monday, June 28th, 2010
Let's Raise Awareness

Let's Raise Awareness

Allen “Rookie” Kruse, the 55-year-old charter fisherman who lost his livelihood in the Gulf Coast, committed suicide last week. He is the first known casualty of the disaster after the oil rig workers who lost their lives in the explosion. The psychological effects of disaster can be severe and unexpected. The morale in the Gulf Coast is admittedly low and those who are vulnerable, perhaps with prior addictions or other emotional issues (although there were no such issues in Mr. Kruse’s past) need special care. We respond very differently to disasters that are acts of God and acts of man. The latter appears to be more painful to the survivors, perhaps as we struggle to interpret what happened and what our fellow human beings did. In Prepare for the Worst, Plan for the Best: Disaster Preparedness and Recovery for Small Businesses (Wiley, second edition paperback 2009), I wrote (page 195) “Now I am going to make a politically incorrect statement. Be attentive to the emotional needs of the men in your life. I was impressed by the men in my life and how many of them suffered silently and perhaps put themselves at greater risk of illness and injury …. sometimes we forget the difficult burden of masculine conduct, so listen carefully and be particularly attentive to the men in your life, who may have needs that they are too embarrassed to admit.” And some of these reactions may be very delayed. So let’s do what we can to reach out and offer support.

A Tin Ear in Washington

Monday, June 21st, 2010

A Tin Ear in Washington DC

A Tin Ear in Washington DC

Kenneth Feinberg, the man appointed by President Obama to administer a $20 billion fund to compensate Gulf Coast oil spill victims, promised to speed claims payments even as a federal judge considers a lawsuit to lift the moratorium on offshore drilling. The U.S. Department of the Interior stopped the approval of any new permits for deepwater drilling and suspended drilling at more than 30 existing exploratory wells in the Gulf of Mexico. But Hornbeck Offshore Services of Louisiana filed a lawsuit in which it claimed that the government acted arbitrarily without any proof that the operations posed a safety risk. Hornbeck claims that the moratorium causes additional hardship to Louisiana, which stands to lose thousands of jobs in the oil and gas industry, even as its fishing and tourism industries are already devastated by the oil spill. Today, Judge Martin Feldman heard arguments in the case in New Orleans federal court. He will issue his ruling by Wednesday. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal filed a brief with the court supporting the plaintiffs’ lawsuit. What is most outrageous about the federal government is that it did not consult Louisiana officials before imposing the moratorium, in violation of federal law. U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas in Houston listened to the New Orleans court hearing today by telephone. She is hearing a similar case against the federal government filed by a Texas-based operator of drilling rigs. Let’s hope that the judges send the federal government a clear message about abuse of power and overreach.