Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Odds of Dying in a Disaster

As far as NASA will tell us, Earth is the only planet in our solar system that hosts intelligent life and, yet, that’s a bit of a surprise considering that Earth is also home to the most volatile weather of all the planets in the group.  Worse than boiling Mercury, gaseous Jupiter and Saturn with its oh-so-icy rings but not as bad as exoplanet HD 189773b where it's 1,000 degrees on the surface and it rains glass sideways (seriously).  While those planets have extremes, they are stable extremes whereas Earth is a bit of a gong show. (And, yes, I know that exoplanet HD 189773b is not in our solar system but it would be pretty cool if it was.)

Despite its wild, oscillating weather, Earth is a survivor.  It’s been pelted many times by space rocks, endured volcanic upheavals that have ripped its surface apart and been shook so hard by mega-thrust earthquakes that the planet is still ringing like a bell today.  Not the place you would expect to find life flourishing and with such staggering diversity.  On the other hand, Earth has also recorded five mass extinction events where some very unlucky creatures never got to celebrate their next birthday.  
There’s no place on Earth where you won’t experience some sort of natural disaster and that type of event often depends on the season.  There are blizzards and ice storms in winter, flash floods and hailstorms in spring, tornadoes and wildfires in summer and hurricanes and windstorms in fall. 

And, just to keep all of us on our toes, at any time during the year, there are a few volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis thrown in for good measure.  In a really, really bad year, there might be a global pandemic thanks to some, cough, sick birds.

Naturally, you might wonder "what are my chances of dying in a disaster?"  The odds are actually low but it depends on where you live (check your country and where it stands on the disaster risk list).  According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there’s a far higher likelihood that you’ll die from heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases and accidental injury – a category that is based, somewhat, on bad decisions and too much alcohol.
In his article, The Odds of Dying, Robert Roy Britt shares some insightful numbers into what might kill you.  For US residents, your chances of dying from “natural forces” are 1-in-3,357 as compared to “falling down” which is 1-in-246.  Again, this last number may reflect the consumption of alcohol and the occasional push from behind.  Your lowest risk is 1-in-615,488 from a fireworks discharge.  I suspect this number is so low because most fireworks go straight up instead of straight at you, making them somewhat easier to dodge.

Of course, the low odds of dying by “natural forces” are small comfort to the actual victims of a major disaster – especially to the nearly quarter of a million men, women and children who died in the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 26, 2004.  For 230,000 people going about their daily lives, the odds suddenly shifted tragically against them.

As it turns out, Asia is a leader in world disasters.  According to a New York Times article written by Joe Cochrane, between 2001 and 2010, the Asia-Pacific area had the most natural disasters, along with the highest number of deaths and the biggest economic losses resulting from them, of anywhere in the world.

On average, more than 200 million people in the region were affected per year by natural disasters during that span, including more than 70,000 killed annually, as noted in a 2011 report by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. 

For most people, disasters are a lot like airliner accidents – they don’t happen very often but, when they do, they usually kill a lot of people.  If you happen to be one of the victims, well, as actress Brooke Shields eloquently explained in a media interview “if you’re killed, you’ve lost the best part of your life.”  To be fair, she was actually talking about the dangers of smoking but her logic still went down in history as outstanding.

The truth is that disasters happen all the time and, unless you’re following those stories or the disaster is big enough to warrant a lot of media attention, you may not realize how often some town, somewhere, is getting the daylights kicked out of it.  And, one day, that town might be your town.
Last week, I posted a link to my Prep for Free Hazard and Risk Assessment Checklists so that you can determine your major risk factors (bearing in mind, that nearly every disaster can happen anywhere, even if it hasn't happened before in your area).  I hope you've had a chance to fill them out but, if not, there's still time.  If you have completed them, you will want to pay particular attention to anything that you rated as a 3 and above.
In addition to understanding your local risks, the other benefit of filling out the checklists is that you will actually take a moment to become aware of your surroundings and, possibly, see them in a new light.
I happen to live in a very safe neighborhood in a safe city that's out of harm's way for many disaster types.  My neighborhood is lined with pretty trees and manicured lawns – a place where the worst disaster is when Starbucks runs out of cups (this has happened and it was devastating).  But looks can be deceiving.
Since I live in a suburb that is on the edge of the city, I'm only a few blocks away from wavy, golden wheat fields and that puts my neighborhood at a higher risk of impact from a tornado compared to areas that are built further into the city.  I also have some major highway intersections nearby which puts me at risk for a hazardous spill or toxic leak due to a transport accident. 
Hail is also not my friend and, as a result, I have literally watched swirling emerald-green clouds and wondered if I should be heading for the  In that storm, I ended up flying down the basement stairs with the dog racing behind as the sound of a freight train roared through the house.  It wasn't a tornado but a horrific hail storm that left $432 million in damage to my city.  I emerged to a surreal picture of yards and roads covered in a foot of hail.  My beautiful May tree was battered and broken beyond saving and I now needed a new roof.
Once you've determined your top disaster risks, you'll want to customize your emergency supplies for a few reasons.  Now, if you hike or backpack, you likely already know why.  It's space.  Space is a critical consideration when packing an emergency kit and, although many items will be generic to all kits, there are some customizations that can save you space, time and effort if you don't need to collect and carry them.
I don't see a lot of discussion about customized kits, mainly because most emergency managers weep for joy that you even put together a kit at all, let alone a custom one.  But here's where some insider tips can help you.  For example, if you live in a desert climate like Arizona, you're going to want to include water or juice in your kit.  Although liquids are bulky and heavy to carry, in that kind of climate, not enough water can quickly become a life or death emergency.
On the other hand, if you live in a place that has ample streams, rivers and lakes or even areas with high rainfall, then you can get away with far less water and, instead, opt for one of my favorite items, the Life Straw.
The Life Straw is an amazing piece of technology that allows you to drink from a variety of dirty water sources.  It's lightweight and about the size of a thin flashlight.  It retails for around $20 although you'll be able to use your prep-for-free strategies to get it for free.  This is one custom item that can save you space and weight.
Next week, I will be travelling to deliver some crisis media training so my blog will be a short one but, when I return, we'll begin with step 1 of the prep-for free program.  This is good news for all procrastinators because you have a little more time to do your checklists and designate where you're going to store your emergency supplies.

In a coming blog, I'll also prepare some customization lists for specific disaster types so that you can tailor your kit based on your individual risk checklists.  But, in the meantime, we can still get started prepping for the generic items right away.
I'm so excited that we'll soon be prepping for free and I hope you are too!
Thanks for stopping by,

Don't forget to subscribe to this blog or you can follow it by providing your email address.  Also, please feel free to follow my Twitter feed @Plan_Prep_Live  and like my Facebook company page, both of which cover disaster incidents around the world.  And, if we haven't already connected, then here's my LinkedIn profile. 

© Copyright 2016 Nancy Argyle

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Determine Your Hazards and Risks

If you ask the average person to identify the most common disaster risks they face, they'll often answer "power outages, flooded basements and mother-in-law visits."  Fair enough, although, in defense of power outages, it's not always the utility company's fault.  Car accidents seem to have a special attraction to power poles as do tornadoes. 

Some people might also include severe weather or earthquake risks if they live in an area prone to those but almost no one will consider the train tracks running through the center of town (hint: toxic spill from derailment) nor will they consider the industrial area near their residential subdivision (hint: exploding fireball).

Understanding what local risks you face is the first step in emergency preparedness and I can tell you, from personal experience, that there's no surprise like an exploding fireball surprise.   

My definition of prepping involves living a balanced life somewhere between casual risk management and wearing a tin foil hat on my head.  Without giving up a normal lifestyle or dropping off the grid completely, balanced prepping will leave you feeling a lot less anxious and far more confident in your ability to face adversity.
The preparedness mindset is based in a belief system that promotes self-reliance, risk management and the importance of anticipation.  It’s not anti-government or anti-society but, instead, adopts a more positive approach that says “I know I can count on myself but I’m not sure about everybody else.” 
Preparedness enhances your resiliency because, in the moment of truth, you won't be competing with hundreds or thousands of others in need of help.  Quite the opposite, the prepper may be able to help others as well as themselves.  When things go sideways, at the very least, they won’t be standing in front of you in a three-hour panic-buying check out line at the grocery store and that’s something.
Now, last week, I promised to share a photo of an item that I got for free.  And here it is (mine is not this brand but very similar).

This is a piece of gear that, no matter where you live or what hazards you face, you'll want to own.  It's a bright LED lantern that can be energized through rechargeable batteries, solar power or hand cranking.  It also includes an AM/FM radio with weather stations and a cell phone/USB charger.  Did I mention that I got it for free?  
There are a variety of brands that offer this type of emergency lantern.  In my case, all I had to do was redeem some of my reward miles on a loyalty card.  The costs of shipping were included and I didn't have to spend any time or gas to go out shopping.  It doesn't get any better than having free emergency gear delivered to your door! 
But, before we can get into the 8-step Prep for Free program, first we need to establish your hazards and risk levels.  To help you get started and to, ultimately, customize your emergency supplies, I've put together three Prep for Free Hazard and Risk Assessment Checklists that cover off natural hazards, technological hazards and human-caused hazards. 

I urge you to use them to get a good sense of your local risks including those nearby your home, work and children's schools.  Don't forget to review your regular transportation routes as well.  In coming posts, you'll see why this is important when we take a look at a few events that surprised commuters and turned their daily drive into a deadly disaster.
By the way, I've made these PDF checklists fillable so that all you have to do is select your hazards and your level of risk for each.  Just be sure to download the PDF first, then save and use the fill out function.

Good luck on your risk assessments and see you next week!
Thanks for stopping by,
Don't forget to subscribe to this blog or you can follow it by providing your email address.  Also, please feel free to follow my Twitter feed @Plan_Prep_Live  and like my Facebook company page, both of which cover disaster incidents around the world.  And, if we haven't already connected, then here's my LinkedIn profile. 

© Copyright 2015 Nancy Argyle

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Better Late Than Never (part 2)

Imagine you’re at a barbeque, enjoying a great burger bash, when someone, who coincidently looks a lot like me, announces that “never before, in the history of humankind, have we been so vulnerable!” 
Frankly, no one would blame you if you rolled your eyes and thought, “jeez, there’s always one drama queen.”  After all, with the possible exception of the mayonnaise that’s been sitting out in the hot sun, there should be nothing that makes us more vulnerable now than in the past.  Today, we’re the dominant species, living in a world loaded with technological advantages that we control.  Right? 
Wrong.  Despite satellites flying overhead, weather radar and an endless array of early warning systems, never before have we faced so much risk.  Puzzled?  Let me explain.
There are different types of disasters; ones that are extinction-level events, ones that are deadly but the impacted area recovers within a few years and ones that initially kill no one but, instead, destroy our way of life and turn back the clock on our advanced civilization. 
The first kind – extinction-level events – don’t require much preparedness.  A nice bottle of wine, perhaps, but that’s about it.  A good risk management strategy is to just accept that you live on a big chunk of rock hurtling through space and that’s that.  (FYI, Earth has already experienced a number of extinction-level events in the past.)  
The second “deadly but recoverable” type of disaster can certainly benefit from emergency preparedness but it’s the third type that many people miss.  Those are the events that, without much warning, rob us of everything we’ve come to rely on, throwing us back into the dark ages in a heartbeat.  We dodged this very scenario in 1859 for one reason only -- we had yet to develop a dependency on the electrical grid (more on this in a later blog). 
In an extended "grid down" scenario, the planet and humankind would continue to exist but, for millions of people, our civilization, technology and lifestyle would evaporate overnight.  And, it's a real scenario that scientists and governments are studying.  Some have even gone public to ring the alarm bells. 

It’s a shocking possibility, especially if you’re just hearing this for the first time, but one that illustrates just how drastically things have changed in the last 100 years.  Incidents that would not have threatened us in the past could now completely eliminate our modern world.  It’s the reason why understanding and managing disaster risk is more important today than it was during your great-grandparents' time. 
You probably didn't stop by to read doom and gloom but, if you're interested, in the coming weeks, I'll be writing more about some of these type 3 scenarios like EMPs (electromagnetic pulses) and CMEs (coronal mass ejections from the sun).  In the meantime, it helps to be aware of the magnitude of some disasters to decide what level you want to prep to. 
If you decide to go full out, you'll be including seeds, gardening items, hand tools and building materials to completely start over.  If you're doing a basic level, you'll be more focused on short-term resiliency that doesn't need those items.  The good news is that you don't have to decide right now.  As we work through the prep for free program, you can decide how far you want to take it.  
However, there is something very important that you can do right this minute and that is to emotionally and psychologically accept that a disaster could happen.  Research has shown that this mental toughness and emotional preparedness is critical to surviving and thriving through an incident.  If you need to, take a moment to reflect on how you view disasters. 
With that said, let's take the first "pre-prep" step together by dedicating some space for your soon-to-be emergency supplies.  Here are some obvious places with a few tips:
  • Garage (A good place for larger supplies that you intend to load into your vehicle before bugging out or for shelter-in-place items.  Remember to consider temperature swings inside when selecting what goes out there along with intrusions by rats and mice.  Also, consider security and break-in potential.)
  • Basement (Be careful because basements can flood so put supplies up off the floor and secure for safety's sake so that no one is injured if something topples over.  Basements are good for long-term, shelter-in-place supplies as temperature swings are minimal but not great for bug out since moving items from the basement can eat up precious time or be physically taxing.)
  • Closets (Cupboards, cabinets and closets are perfectly fine and work well for those with limited storage options.  Try to avoid scattering a bunch of items throughout the house.  Later on, we'll get into why duplication is a good idea but staying organized is equally important.)
  • Under the bed (Many preppers like this option because it's discreet.  There are even beds that lift up to reveal hidden storage including gun racks.  It's an option better suited to shelter-in-place supplies but could hold bug out gear as well.)
  • Vehicles (Always carry an emergency kit in your vehicle (if you don't have one already, you'll create one of these for free) but more extensive supplies should not be stored in vehicles due to extremes in temperature when left outside in summer and winter.)
  • Storage lockers (Designated storage lockers are great use of space but beware of possible security issues.  Also, make sure you're able to access your emergency supplies 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.)
  • Front door closet (This is my favorite place to store an evacuation backpack (go kit).  It's out of sight but you can still grab it quickly and go!)
  • A combination of the above (If you decide to increase your supplies as you develop your kits, you may find that a combination of storage spaces works best.) 
  • Last resort (If all else fails, then a corner in a room is just fine.)
Next week, we'll take a look at how to identify hazards and assess risks for your area so that you'll know what to put into your customized emergency kits.  I'll also share a photo of one of my favourite pieces of emergency gear that I got for free.  You'll definitely want this piece of tech in your kits, no matter where you live.
Thanks for reading,
Don't forget to subscribe to this blog or you can follow it by providing your email address.  Also, please feel free to follow my Twitter feed @Plan_Prep_Live  and like my Facebook company page, both of which cover disaster incidents around the world.  And, if we haven't already connected, then here's my LinkedIn profile. 

© Copyright 2015 Nancy Argyle

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Better Late Than Never (part 1)

For anyone who has looked upward at a darkening sky, warily watched its swirling emerald-green storm clouds and wondered if they should be heading to the blog is for you.
After years in the emergency management field and just as many years preaching to family, friends and startled strangers, I realized that most people resist being prepared simply because they don't know where to begin.
If you’re like millions of others and an emergency happened right now, you might be able to grab two tins of tuna, a flashlight with questionable batteries and a candle that you got for Christmas.  It’s okay.  Between juggling the kids, the job and the mortgage, disaster preparedness is not high on your “to do” list.  I understand.
And, yet, here you are.  Reading and thinking about preparedness, perhaps for the first time ever.  Maybe, it was a disaster close to home or an extreme weather event that inspired you to start preparing.  Whatever it was, I’m glad you’re willing to learn what to do to protect you and your family.
I’m also happy to see that you have an open mind.  As one Twitter follower noted “a few bad preppers have made the rest of us look like loonies.”  I assure you that being prepared is far more common than most realize (three million Americans and counting) and, by far, the majority of preppers are average people who just want to take care of their loved ones in an emergency. 

If it makes you feel any better, your government actually wants you to be prepared and has devoted many resources and websites into teaching people how to do that.  But, in my opinion, the missing piece is money.  I spent nearly $10,000 on my emergency supplies and, along the way, I realized that, with a little effort, I could have done almost all of it for free. 
If you choose to subscribe to this blog (and I hope you will), you'll soon understand why and how every family should be prepared for unexpected incidents and emergencies.  You'll also learn how to assess the risks in your area and decide on how far you want to go with your preparedness plans.  You can do as little or as much as you feel comfortable with.
I'll walk you through the types of things you'll need and how to get them without touching your hard-earned cash.  You'll gain insight into the best gear out there and why savvy preppers covet it.  Before you know it, you'll be creating a household emergency kit, a car kit and kits for Fido and Kitty as well.  If you want to go further, we'll be using the same tips and tricks to create bug-out bags and long-term supplies.
Granted, prepping for free takes a little longer but the end result is exactly the same.  By the time you’re done, you should be ready to cope with anything that comes your way and your budget will never notice anything amiss.
Ultimately, you'll sleep better knowing your family is prepared, you'll be more self-reliant and your neighbors will be impressed.  Let's face it, their emergency supplies probably consist of breath mints and dog biscuits.

Thanks for reading,

Don't forget to subscribe to this blog or you can follow it by providing your email address.  Also, please feel free to follow my Twitter feed @Plan_Prep_Live  and like my Facebook company page, both of which cover disaster incidents around the world.  And, if we haven't already connected, then here's my LinkedIn profile. 

© Copyright 2015 Nancy Argyle