You gotta start somewhere…

I am a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) volunteer.  I have received training in basic principles of search & rescue, triage, first aid, emergency management, disaster psychology, and similar disaster-related subjects.  I understand how the system can break down and what happens when it does. I understand why grocery stores can run out of things and how their shelves can remain empty throughout the duration of an emergency.  I have a pretty complete understanding of why it takes so long for governments to do anything in an emergency. I know how to read between the lines of media reporting on emergency situations. I know what they’re saying, and I understand what they’re really telling me.  So, I prep.

There are different schools of thought on what’s known as “prepping.” There’s the school of thought that starts by saying “Everything’s going to be okay. We just need to have some supplies on hand for those minor, localized emergencies that can befall any municipality.” Now this is a pretty valid train of thought for a couple of reasons. One, most people in the United States now live in urban areas. So, it makes sense for people to plan for the various contingencies they’re likely to encounter in an urban setting. Two, most emergencies are relatively minor. Ice storms cause power outages and electricity is restored within hours or days. Broken water mains are repaired almost immediately, again within a matter of hours or days. And who can remember the last time the gas was off for any length of time? Most of the time, the event happens and within hours, or days, the situation has been addressed and order gets restored.  The most basic school of thought in prepping addresses these sorts of emergencies.

The second school of thought involves longer range plans. At the far end of this spectrum are people who prep for longer, more serious and more sustained situations. Many feel that the system will eventually collapse entirely and order will not be restored.  Ever. They are preparing for a complete collapse of the economy and then a collapse of society itself.  Instead of thinking in terms of being prepared for a few days, or maybe a few weeks at most, these people think in terms of having adequate supplies for months, or years. They have contingency plans for alternate forms of currency and barter. They stockpile precious metals, stabilized fuel, dehydrated foods, guns and ammunition. And, even among people who prep for the long haul there are different philosophies, but that’s a tale for another day. That’s the spectrum in its most basic form.

So, before you start trying to cryo-vac your beans, or attempt to dehydrate whole melons, or start filling 55 gallon drums with the garden hose, stop. Sit down with your loved ones and a pen & paper for brainstorming and think about where you fall on the prepping spectrum. Honestly consider what it is that you feel you need to be prepared for. The guy who lives alone in a cabin in Alaska has a very different set of circumstances and potential scenarios to consider than, say, a woman living with her two kids in an apartment in New York city. Are you worried about earthquakes? Floods? Winter storms? Hurricanes? Tornadoes? Rolling blackouts? When it comes to emergencies and disasters, think about what you are most likely to face. Then decide how you want to prepare for it. Start there.

That wasn’t so bad, was it?

Perhaps you think that you’re most likely to face an evacuation emergency due to wildfire. Say to yourself, “How do I want to deal with that?” Where will you go? How will you get there? What secondary route will you take if your main escape route is blocked? What will you take with you? Who will know where you’re going? How will you communicate with the rest of your family?

If you’re facing other sorts of emergencies and your desired option is sheltering-in-place (i.e. “staying put”) you have different questions to answer. Is it safe to stay here? How long will I be here? What do I need/want with me while I’m here? How will I prepare food, or stay warm (or cool) if the power goes out or the water stops running?

Putting together a 3-day bag doesn’t have to be all that difficult. Once you decide what you’re preparing for, it gets easier. Once you know what you really need (as opposed to what someone tells you that you ought to have or have to buy or should be eating) it gets easier still.

The hardest step is really the first: coming to terms with the fact that something could happen to you, right where you live, and that no one will come to your aid for a little while. The first step is taking that deep breath and consenting to let go of your illusion of safety and security. Once you do that, it becomes less of a mental big deal to pick up an extra couple gallons of bottled water, an extra pound of beans, roll of duct tape, or cheap space blanket when you find yourself at the store every week. Before you know it, you’ll have 3 days of supplies in your pantry, ready to weather the winter storm.

If you feel that you need to prepare for emergencies of longer duration, you will have more in depth planning to do and, of course, more intensive preparations to complete. Bu, if you’ve gotten this far, you’ve already taken care of the hardest part: admitting to yourself that it emergencies can happen wherever you are.


One Response to “You gotta start somewhere…”

  1. Elisheva Levin Says:

    There are those who are lulled into the sense that because it has never happened to them or never happened here, it can never happen. Unfortunately, there are also those in the MSM that ridicule preparedness, and call those who are prepared “fear mongers” and “extremists.” And yet being prepared is something that people even a generation ago did almost as a matter of course. They understood that life can throw you some curves. They were ready to help themselves and their neighbors, knowing that seldom are the “authorities” there in the critical first few minutes or hours of an emergency. It used to be called common sense.

    I think this change is why New Yorkers (for example) were not able to handle a severe snow storm. It is not like serious snowstorms haven’t happened in New York in the past. (I remember watching the blizzard of 1967 on a little snowy black and white from our home in Boise Idaho). But then people did not abandon cabs in the middle of roads, and they did not sit in their houses waiting for the government to save them. They got out with their snow shovels and shoveled themselves and their neighbors out. They were prepared to help themselves and their neighbors.

    The bulk of my childhood was spent in Central Illinois, where ice storms and blizzards often happened more than once in a winter. It was common to lose power for three or four days, and sometimes longer if many transformers shorted out. The same kind of can-do spirit prevailed there, too. We kids would go out and shovel our neighbors out for the price of a warm smile and a cup of hot chocolate. Cookies were wonderful currency as well. We would all sleep in the living room to the warmth of the wood stove. It was an adventure, and a block party all tied together.

    I think the difference was that all our parents projected a spirit of preparedness instead of panic, and we believed that we were more than up to such challenges. We need that good old Yankee ingenuity again.

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