As we explore space, reaching out to embrace new worlds, it’s sobering to realize that we’ve long left behind the knowledge of how to survive in our old one. In North America, only a small percentage of people – mostly farmers, Native Americans and a vague group called “hardy folk” – know how to truly live off the land.
Hands up if you happen to be one of them. That's what I thought. Me neither. In fact, I killed a cactus once. One of the toughest plants out there. That lives in the desert.
It’s also a little dismaying to realize that, nowadays, many people have no idea where their food comes from and most have never seen a cow, up close and personal. This is especially true for today's kids who can program a computer and hack your Facebook account in an instant, but, if the food supply stopped tomorrow, they would have no idea how to plant a carrot.
There’s a painful irony in that vulnerability – a weakness created in a world filled with mind-boggling technology used by millions who have no idea how to build a shelter or start a fire. Don't feel bad. I struggle to get a fire going with matches and lighter fluid.
This situation has not escaped the watchful eye of some experts who recognize that we are an advanced civilization tethered precariously to our technology and the electrical grid. The real disaster threat lies not in the next earthquake or the next hurricane but in an entire population relying on others to meet their basic needs of life.
Today, sustaining life has become a massive effort far removed from the individual who, in the past, used to be responsible for meeting those needs on their own. When it all works, it’s quite spectacular. Just one shopping trip through any big box store is proof of this system’s ability to deliver our essential needs in spades. So, what’s the problem then?
Well, according to some scientific estimates (okay, best guesses), in a major disaster, those stores can be wiped clean in three days and, since most use a system called real-time inventory, shelves can only be re-stocked again once trucks and aircraft arrive from manufacturers and importers – a difficult feat during a disaster if roads and airports are damaged or if there is no electricity or a fuel shortage.
Once the shelves are empty, most believe their government, through its military forces, will move mountains to look after its citizens and they will – without question – for a period of time. The majority of countries will do this because it is morally the right thing to do but also because governments have learned that they better be the heroes in a crisis. Otherwise, the public will express their immense displeasure in the next election.
Politically, there’s a lot at stake during a disaster. Disasters often become a lightning rod for frustration because the expectations of the public are incredibly high during a crisis. This is that “life or death” moment when the public is unwilling to forgive bungling or incompetence on the part of its emergency response agencies. Of all times, this is when agencies must step up to the plate or be judged in the harsh court of public opinion.
As a result, during an incident, there’s a constant stream of information demonstrating what government and relief agencies are doing which, in turn, leads many people to believe that, “hey, they’ve got this.” There’s no need to have an emergency kit, stockpile supplies or stash some cash because, in a disaster, the government will take care of you. I call this the “flaming ostrich” syndrome. Sticking your head in the sand while your feathers are on fire. The fire might eventually go out on its own but you’re still going to get burnt.
Having said that, many government agencies have a pretty good track record of responding appropriately to disasters. Hurricane Katrina was not one of them but, in most cases, a lot of time, money and genuine care by emergency managers goes into their response efforts. But professional competency should never be confused with professional capacity.
There are some disasters that can quickly outstrip and overwhelm the resources of any country on the planet. No one likes to think about those scenarios because they expose our vulnerabilities but you should. Because, in the end, it might just be you left to rescue you. Or it might be your neighbor that rescues you. You know, neighbors, those people that you never talk to.
Despite the best efforts of many, disaster response is little more than managed chaos. There are going to be delays, mistakes, under-utilized resources, agency turf wars and breakdowns in communication. I know that, first hand, from working behind the scenes, leading a large team of crisis communicators. We worked exceptionally long shifts, sometimes running our centre 24 hours a day for weeks on end. My shift was usually 14-16 hours long and, as team lead, I often provided nearly a hundred media interviews a day. Exhausting doesn’t even begin to describe working in a command centre.
The work was also exhilarating and rewarding as we helped people evacuate to safe locations, worked to save livestock, pets and property and rescued some in dire situations. I remember one flood in which a bulldozer held two parents and their child in its rough metal shovel, in the pitch black of night, as the driver negotiated a rising river to save them.
There were also moments, unforgettable snapshots in time, when there was no bulldozer coming but, instead, knowledge and preparedness saved lives. There’s a saying in the industry – plan for the worst, hope for the best. It’s a motto that should be taken seriously as, never once, did emergency planning hinder someone – it only enhanced their ability to survive the unexpected.
Over the years, I've met many people with varying degrees of preparedness so, on a lighter note, let’s take a look at some of those prepper personalities:
- Clueless Commuter (no supplies but I keep some cough candies in the glove compartment, just in case)
- Secret Stasher (I have supplies but I can’t leave the house quickly because they're hidden in 39 secret locations)
- Lazy Boy (prepping is the wife’s thing, she knows where the stuff is)
- Material Girl (I wish my husband would stop prepping so we could go shopping for some stuff we’d actually use one day)
- Employee of the Month (my work gave me an emergency kit but I have no idea where it is)
- Wal-Mart People (stocked up with 108 cans of tomato soup that was on sale)
- Family Fanatic (bought 79 acres of remote wilderness and installed a million dollar bunker)
- Savvy Stocker (have car kits, go-kits, bug-out totes, camping gear, shelter-in-place supplies, pet kits plus extra food and water stored)
I have bug-out totes which are a little heavy but can easily be loaded into two vehicles along with the camping gear. Each tote contains a mixture of items so that no one kit is essential if lost or damaged.
The car kits are much smaller and used for sudden emergencies when travelling such as a winter storm. They stay in the vehicles at all times. The go-kits are mid-sized backpacks that do double-duty. They can be worn if we were forced to walk (leaving us hands free) and they sit up front in vehicles providing the first few days of supplies if we were bugging out.
During a disaster, if you’re being evacuated and you're able to drive out, the last thing you want to do is stop the vehicle on the side of the road and start rummaging around your bug-out totes, looking for something to eat. You want to keep moving until you're at a safer location which is good reason for keeping the go-kits up front. I also store all critical medication in the go-kits. In an apocalypse (feel free to insert the word zombie here), these kits are the ones that would be protected first.
Even pets can help out by carrying items during an evacuation, especially if walking out (remember, some disasters, like earthquakes, can destroy roads and make vehicle travel impossible). I have dog packs that easily clip on (similar to the photo below). Obviously, don't expect your pet to carry heavy items but this is one way to leave with some additional supplies.
Next week, we'll get started with step 1 of the Prep for Free program. Yeah! Soon, you'll be a savvy stocker too!
Thanks for reading,
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