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HELP and OK Window Signs

Managing expectations of your community.

A fairly common procedure used in communities across the United States is to promote people having a reversible sign that they can put in the front window of their home, be it a house or apartment. On one side it has a big “OK” on it and usually is colored green. The reverse side says “HELP” and is usually colored red.

The concept is that people can indicate their status after a disaster by displaying a sign that others can clearly see and offer help if needed.

I saw one of these signs the other day that had the additional information that says, “Responders will try to get to you as fast as they can. Help the response by attaching your HELP/OK signs to your window or front door with tape of two Band-Aids.”

The concept is a good one, but I think mentioning responders as coming to their aid sets the wrong expectations. I would say something like, “By doing so, you let your neighbors know if you need help or are doing OK.” The thought that fire and police in a big disaster will be looking for these signs and stopping to help is the wrong message to send.

Lastly, use tape or bubble gum, save the Band-Aids for something else. Bleeding, perhaps?
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.