Disasters Happen Fast: Respond Effectively
By Kyle Ferlemann | Sep 22, 2020
Disasters: When it happens, it happens fast
The point of this blog is to instill a sense of urgency and recognition of the situation of civil unrest that may well soon visit itself upon many of us. Even when you have made preparations, and even if you believe you are away from where you think it may happen, please consider the advice provided here and take it into consideration. The point is not to “scare” you, but rather to replace fear of the unknown with recognition and thought. Awareness is a big part of disaster readiness. Here is a chance for you to learn from the experiences of others. I encourage you to take advantage of it.
The first time I jumped from a perfectly good airplane I knew exactly what I was getting into. I had trained for it and practiced all the things I needed to do to be able to participate in, and enjoy the experience of a controlled fall to the Earth from 3 thousand 500 hundred feet. It was surreal jumping from the plane and leaping for the end of a wing I knew I would never catch. The yank of the static cord was less than I expected and I looked up to see the fully expanded canape of my parachute open above me, a perfect half globe of colorful cloth. I reached up for the tabs that controlled the vents and turned a full 360 to find the wind direction, found the air field below me and faced into the wind. The horizon was far off and the corn fields surrounding the small airport in Xenia, Ohio opened below me. I had all the time in the world to just float and watch the good green Earth below me. As I floated along, I watch the fields grow larger beneath me knowing full well I would soon land, but for now all was well. Then it happened. All at once I was within 200 feet of the ground. The steady change became an insane rush. The Earth lunged at me with vicious intent and although I’m sure I had a full 30 seconds to prepare myself, in my mind I barely had time to slap my ankles and knees together and prepare for the impact I knew would come. It was a bit of a reality check when I hit the Earth, but my training had prepared me and I survived the impact. I collected up my chute and walked to the hanger, picked up a new chute, and joined the group gathering for the next flight up. I have made other jumps, but the experience of the first time I hit the ground is still fresh in my mind 45 years later.
Experience is a harsh teacher
As I interviewed the survivors of war and disaster over my military career, I discovered that my experience was not unique. They too had felt the weight of the world “come at them quickly” and those moments stayed with them, even haunted them, as the moment their lives changed forever. Universally the stories have a common denominator: it all happened quickly.
A mother told me of the time she was folding laundry on Sunday morning while the children slept late. Her husband had joined the other men at the head of the valley to guard against the people who had been their neighbors just weeks before. Old ethnic grudges had resurfaced and grown violent over the last year. It was just a precaution. He said he would come and get her and the girls if anything bad was going to happen. She was folding towels when her friend ran up and pounded on the door. The distraught woman screamed at her to grab her children and run. She told the woman her husband would be home soon and he would know what to do. The woman stood on her step with tears in her eyes and told her that both of their husbands were dead, the enemy was killing and burning as they came, and she had to leave NOW. She grabbed her daughters and ran. They were still in their night gowns and left the house with untied shoes and no socks. In retrospect, she regretted not taking the time to have the girls dress and grab a few things, but at the time she thought she would return to her home after the trouble had passed. She never returned to her house again.
Katarina was an older woman whom I interviewed several times. She was a wealth of history and insight. She had survived the second world war better than most. Her father, rest his soul, had taught her well. To escape the Russian’s, she had taken an apartment in Berlin after the fall of the German forces. She was aware of the tensions growing between the US and the Russians, but was confident that the allied forces would keep the city as a free zone. She woke up one morning to find the Russians had put up a barbed wire barrier right outside her building. She was on the east side of it. She and her friends tried that day to get to into west Berlin. She gave up when the Russians shot people trying to cross over. She watched the permanent wall being built from her window. For 60 years it sat there and turned grey. She stayed in that apartment for the entirety of the wall’s existence. Then one day the Russians left and the wall came down as quickly as it went up. She said she was equally unprepared for that as well.
What can we learn from the experience of others?
The point of these stories if this; even when we know things could get bad, we hope that they don’t. We can prepare and make plans, but when it happens, it happens fast. Even when we know things can happen, and may even see them coming, it still happens fast. Do not take the view that it “can’t happen to me” or assume that you will see it coming. Even when you think you are in a safe place and even when you are aware of what could happen; when it does happen, it will happen fast. Civil unrest is not limited to big cities, look at the little town of Kenosha, Wisconsin. Wild fires are not limited to the mountains. Look at the fires in the suburbs of Californian cities. Hurricane damage is not limited to the coast. Look at the wind and flood damage all along the Gulf states. All of these people will tell you the same thing; “I knew it could happen, but I did not think it would happen here”, and “I thought I was ready, but it happened so fast”.
I urge you to be aware of this phenomenon and to not let the shock of the “Earth coming at you quickly” completely disrupt your plans. The ability to recognize and constructively react to sudden changes is just as important as anticipation and preparation. Be aware of this, make your decisions ahead of time where you can, and be ready to react constructively when the time comes.
Have you had a similar experience with a disaster? Tell us your “it happens so fast” story and what helped you stay safe in the comments below.
For more information on practical preparedness, order Practical Preparedness: It’s Not the End of the World from the GRIT bookstore and Disaster Response SMARTBook 3 – Disaster Preparedness, 2nd Edition online.
Kyle is also a speaker for the Mother Earth News Fair Online. Learn more and register to see his workshop video today.
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