The devastating wildfires of 2018 and 2019 got me thinking about the harsh realities of when Mother Nature shows her wrath. Most people understand that disasters can and will happen but either do not want to think about it or just don’t know how to plan for a disaster. It is a fact that people get caught in disasters. It is also true that simply relying on your wits during a disaster will not save you. Disaster planning is just that; planning. Being ready and able to act before the disaster happens is the key to successful survival and rapid recovery. Even a simple plan with a few resources can make the difference between knowing what to do and having options, or being trapped by circumstances with no time, no resources, and no choices.
As an emergency response planner, I work with people and communities in building resiliency; resiliency being the ability to survive and quickly recover from natural or man-made disasters. If you are thinking about what you should do to prepare for a disaster here are a few things to consider.
The 20% plan is the 80% solution.
I have conducted hundreds of interviews with survivors of disasters and wars. Within these conversations a pattern emerged. Those who took the time to make simple plans and basic preparations had greater success in both surviving and recovering. Simple things like having an extra set of clothing and some food set back, knowing the location of important documents like vehicle registrations, house/land titles and some extra cash, and having had discussions with family members about where to meet if they can’t get home right away. The difference that a little thought and preparation made in the stories of these families was significant.
Almost universally, these plans had similar attributes. They were very simple, easy to understand and remember. Basics like what to take and where to go were decided well in advance of trouble arriving. The plans relied on few resources. Having large stockpiles was rarely the case, as resources consisted of useful tools they often carried with them or had stored nearby and readily accessible. Most importantly, plans were discussed within the family on a fairly regular basis (maybe a few times a year) and reinforced in a positive light.
The greatest regrets people expressed was not having time to think about decisions they had to make under stress and with limited time; and in retrospect discovering they had chosen poorly. In most cases these decisions could have been made prior to the emergency, regardless of the specifics of the situation.
By just having the “disaster conversation”, making the decisions, and collecting / organizing resources to support your plans, you can significantly improve your situation and give yourself choices in times of stress. You will also save valuable time in the emergency by acting quickly upon decisions that have already made. These conversations, decisions, and coordination will seem obvious and easy before a disaster. These choices will not be nearly as easy to make when the situation demands that multiple important decisions, each having long term consequences, be made without time for proper consideration.
A few things to consider and discuss with your family and friends that can significantly help in a disaster are:
- Does the situation call for going or staying? This will affect meeting place and resources.
- What arrangements must be made to move or protect animals?
- If you can’t get to the house where would you go; a friend’s house, a community center?
- Do you have a back-up communications plan? Prearranged meeting place, radios?
- Do you have temperature appropriate clothing available in case you are stuck outside; in the car or at work? (I change my bag in the spring and fall.)
- Do you know where your important papers are located and are they protected from fire and water? Can you get to them quickly and safety?
- If you have a garden and some chickens or other livestock, chances are you have a full panty and stocked larder. What are your plans for sharing and trading?
- Who do you know that will need extra help within your community? Are there older members or farms with more livestock than could use help wrangling scattered critters.
Remember that successful planning depends upon making choices before the disaster. Plan to use what you have, organize your resources so they are ready and available when you need them, and finally (and most importantly) talk with your family, friends, and neighbors. Share what you can, help each other, and watch how well people can work together in a bad situation.
Another really cool thing about disaster resiliency skills is that an attitude of awareness, forethought, and readiness translate directly to resiliency in everyday life. More on that later.
A full discussion of how to make and resource effective plans is available in the Disaster Response Smartbook number 3: Surviving disasters on your own terms, from The Lightning Press.