Now and then you read or hear of a tragedy – typically a car accident – where those involved are suffering from life-threatening injuries or unfortunately have lost their lives. Frequently, in the initial reports, the victims remain nameless “pending notification of next of kin.”
I have always wondered about that issue: How do the authorities find close family members or relatives, especially if the injured are unable to communicate. A driver’s license can give an address – but what if no one is home? What if the entire family was in the car – and there are infants or toddlers strapped in a car seat in the back, no doubt terrified and traumatized by the strangers attending to them?
How are “next of kin” notified? How do the police find family members or even friends who can quickly provide physical and emotional support?
Decades ago, it was common for people to live and work where they grew up. Even if you moved out of town, chances were that you knew your neighbors – and they you – beyond a quick nod or a mumbled “hello.” I imagine that back in the day, if the police came knocking on a neighbor’s door, they might know how to reach their stricken neighbor’s extended family members – or at the very least be available to help out.
That is not necessarily the case today. People are often migratory, especially in a weak economy where one might move several times in the course of a working career. Whereas people used to work for the same employer for 30, 40, even 50 years, nowadays, five years at one company or location is considered impressive.
Today, breadwinners uproot themselves to find employment or to keep their job as they accept an employer’s request that they relocate – often out of state or even cross country, leaving family and friends far away.
In the heimische world, those involved in chinuch often have to pack their bags and go where the parnassah is. (It is no small chesed that the Yiddische velt is very connected and within a few short weeks, after a few bouts of “Jewish Geography” over Shabbat lunch, previous strangers find that they have many acquaintances and social connections linking them.)
Even so, what happens when a family is traveling in an area where no one knows them?
Police can probably obtain cell phone records or check an origin address on a GPS, but what if the phones/GPS were damaged or destroyed in the crash? Time is of the essence in dire situations like this.
People tell me I worry too much, that these worst case scenarios are improbable. Visit any Emergency Room and you might think differently. It’s full of people who always thought freak accidents or horrible occurrences “happen to someone else.”
The fact is, the unimaginable does happen and one should do their best to make a tragic situation from going from bad to worse.
One way to avoid that is to make sure there is contact information on your person or in your vehicle. Chances are a stranger may never be looking for it – but like life insurance, it is a necessary precaution.
Hence my strong suggestion that there always be contact information taped on a young child’s car seat and/or in the glove compartment, and in the adult driver’s purse/briefcase. Thus police can immediately contact a spouse, a parent, place of employment (that likely has emergency contact info on file) etc.
If grandparents can be immediately notified and thus come hours sooner rather than later to comfort a terrified, confused and possibly hurt child, or to provide a necessary medical history for someone severely injured – or to make halachic decisions – the outcome may be life-enhancing for all involved.
On Shabbat, if there is an eruv you hold by, it is a good idea to have some kind of ID in your pocket. I myself have had several close calls while visiting Brooklyn when I walked by a driveway seconds after a car came zooming out. I also fell once, smashing my knee hard – but was OK. If I had slipped backwards and hit my head, the outcome would have been quite different. With no ID on me, or an address of the place I was visiting, it could take a while before me – and my medical history – was identified.