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,

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© Copyright 2016 Nancy Argyle

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