Disaster Plans 101

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Disaster plans 101

In disaster planning there is always the question of, “what should I plan for?” In the broadest possible terms, your plan should keep you alive and safe during the disaster. More than that, your plan needs to ensure you come out of the disaster with enough physical strength to continue on after the disaster, and enough emotional strength to have both the desire, as well as the will, to rebuild what was lost.

Fortunately, there is a lot of good information available on the subject of what humans need in order to survive, both in life and in disasters. In his 1943 paper, “a theory of human motivation”, Dr. Abraham Maslow outlined these motivations in what he called the Hierarchy of Needs. It turns out that there are some universal requirements for life, regardless of situation. Time has proven Maslow’s theory to be correct, so we can use these “life motivations” as an effective guideline for survival requirements during and after a disaster.

Using the Hierarchy of Needs to accurately anticipate, we see that are three fundamental requirements for people to survive any disaster situation. They include physiological needs, safety needs, and social needs.

  • Physiological needs keep a person alive; food, water, shelter, and rest.  
  • Safety needs include physical, environmental and emotional safety and protection.
  • Social needs include the need for love, affection, care, relationships, and friendship.

There are two more levels, but for the purposes of disaster survival we are not looking at our personal realization of psychological fulfillment. Let’s stick to disaster plans for now.   

How to meet basic survival needs

So how do we meet physiological needs? Years of survival experience has developed an accepted list of survival priorities that will meet a person’s basic survival needs when are lost in the wilderness (i.e. separated from society). When this list is examined alongside Dr. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, they match very well.  It provides a solid list of tasks-oriented goals by priority to help keep you physically and mentally functional.  They are: shelter from the elements, warmth and hydration, protection of health, maintenance of physical strength, and maintenance of mental ability via rest.

  • Shelter (Protection from Weather and Elements / Exposure)
  • Water & fire (Hydration and Warmth)
  • Protection from minor injuries (infections, illness, animals, and insects)
  • Food (Strength, stamina, and clear thought)
  • Sleep (Dangers of sleep deprivation / Need for clear thought)

You will notice that two of these requirements, protection from minor injury and a safe place to sleep, fall within the security and safety requirement. This short list makes a good start for goals in a solid survival plan, but a disaster plan needs something more.

Disaster plans should include social interaction as a basic survival requirement

Remember that wilderness survival is about separation from society and infrastructure. In a disaster people will most likely be around other survivors and have access to some infrastructure. For disaster plans we should continue up Maslow’s hierarchy and include the social requirement as well.   

In looking at Dr. Maslow’s third tier, it includes the social aspects of feelings of belonging and friendships. This goes beyond having a safe place to stay. It is specifically because people are present that we need to find some that we can trust. It is the presence of people that generates the requirement and it becomes as fundamental as the need for food and water. This is specifically about communication.

Social requirements relate directly to emotional stability and communication of needs. In the aftermath of a disaster people have a tendency to not communicate needs. They may have injuries that they do not talk about with people they have just met or may not trust. This “shutting down” is an effect of emotional shock rather than some basic mistrust of humanity. The ability to communicate basic needs effectively is vital to ensuring people are receiving basic physiological and safety needs. Simple truth, being around people you trust makes it easier to communicate.

An effective way to provide for social familiarity and trust is to be active within your community. The more people you know the more people you may have a close enough relationship with to provide the level of trust needed for effective communication. This is especially true for children who may become separated from their parents. A teacher, pastor, neighbor, or known and trusted family friend could make all the different for a child who finds themselves temporarily separated from family.   

Let these basic needs be a guide to make your plans

These needs will be the drivers for establishing the goals of your plans. Understanding your goals will help identify the knowledge, tasks, tools, and supplies you may need to collect or accomplish to make your plan work. 

An online search to answer the question of what a family’s immediate needs and survival priorities should be after a disaster strikes can present a bewildering, and sometimes contradictory, tangle of answers. The best method for finding an answer that is right for you is to examine your situation and build from there. 

For more details on practical preparedness check out – Disaster Response SMARTBook 3 – Disaster Preparedness, 2nd Edition. His latest book, Practical Preparedness, was published in June 2020 and is available in our online Grit Store.

Kyle is also a speaker for the Mother Earth News Fair Online. Learn more and register to see his workshop video today.