So you didn’t prepare.
You didn’t stockpile food and water. You didn’t evacuate, and you don’t have a 72-hour bag to take with you even if you did. The storm is now bearing down on you, the shelves of every store are empty, and the power is about to go out. And you’re fresh out of toilet paper.
Well, you’re not alone. According to a study by Chapman University, 86% of Americans believe that having a disaster prep kit such as those recommended by FEMA or the Red Cross would help their chances of surviving a major disaster. But do you want to know how many of those people have actually taken steps to assemble said kit? Guess.
A whopping 28%. What this tells us is that approximately three quarters of Americans do not have enough food, water, or other supplies to last them 72 hours. For some specific supplies, that number is even lower. According FEMA, less than 8% of those who take prescription medications have taken precautions to ensure that they have enough to get them by in the event of a disaster.
Why is this? Why do people who are for the most part reasonable and rational fail to prepare? It’s no secret that disasters happen, or that being prepared will definitely up your chances of survival. FEMA, the Red Cross, and many other organizations shout this stuff from the rooftops every day. But all too often it falls on deaf ears. So why do people fail to prepare? According to the same Chapman University study, there are four primary reasons.
1. The number one reason that the people surveyed said they hadn’t done anything to prepare is that they assumed first responders would be coming to help them if a disaster struck.
This is an erroneous assumption. Jonathan and I both teach disaster preparedness and response for our local emergency management agency, and we’ve done a lot of disaster case studies in the years we’ve been teaching. One thing that ties nearly all of these disasters together - be it the tornadoes that devastated Joplin, Missouri, the major wildfires in California, or hurricanes such as Katrina and Rita - is the fact that local first response agencies were completely overwhelmed. Fire, EMS, and LE were all totally blitzed by the deluge of calls they received in the wake of the incident. Even with responders working around the clock and running calls on no sleep for days on end, it was often days or even weeks before some areas were secured.
No one should be surprised by this. County and city planners plan and budget for a force of first responders that is adequate and appropriate to respond to an average number of calls in normal conditions. It would be impractical and wasteful for counties and cities to maintain a large enough force of firefighters, cops, and medics on standby to respond to any and all disasters. Most of the time, they’d be sitting around the station with their hands in their pockets, and it would eat up the entire budget of some small cities just to pay their salaries. Budgetary constraints are a real issue for the majority of county and city first response agencies. Rural counties with small tax bases may only have a few county vehicles and full time employees and rely heavily on volunteers, many of whom have to outfit themselves.
In almost any disaster that’s large enough to affect more than a small local area, it takes first responders between 24 and 72 hours to respond to most emergencies. Mutual aid (where counties have agreements to help each other out in case one’s resources get overwhelmed) is a big help, but it can still sometimes take two to three days to get those resources mobilized and on scene where they’re needed. In larger, national-news type disasters such as hurricanes Katrina or Sandy, the response time can stretch to two weeks or more. Even if resources are adequate, they may not be able to physically get to you. And this doesn’t just apply to national-level disasters. During the severe tornadoes that hit northwest Georgia and northeast Alabama in 2011, the tiny town of Sand Mountain, Alabama was completely cut off from the outside world for over a week. It’s a crossroads town with only two major roads going in and two going out, and they were both blocked completely by hundreds of downed trees. The takeaway from this is that no matter how dedicated and hardworking first responders are, there are only so many of them to go around. In light of that, you should have enough supplies to support yourself until they can get to you.
2. The second reason that the study cited was a lack of time.
Lame excuse, y’all. I know we’re all busy. I get it. There’s work, family, church, activities for the kids, etc., etc. I realize that most Americans have virtually zero free time on their hands. But preparedness is one thing that should make its way onto your list of priorities. As I said in last week’s post on perishable skills, one hour a week will put you way ahead of the game. Whether that hour is devoted to research, procuring supplies, assembling your kit, taking inventory, cycling resources in and out, or going over your preparedness plan with your family is up to you. But at the end of a year, that’s 52 hours devoted to being ready, or more than a solid week’s worth of work. The advantage in applying this concept to preparedness is that once all of your supplies are secured and inventoried, you can dial back your time commitment to simply maintaining them. So don’t let time hold you back. Be intentional, and get it done. You’ll be glad you did.
3. The third reason that people fail to prepare is that they simply “Didn’t want to think about it.”
Out of all the reasons, this is the one that actually makes me angry. It doesn’t even make sense to me, because I would be constantly stressed and anxious if I knew there was a possible threat out there and was doing nothing to prepare for it. Back in another lifetime, I used to be an insurance agent. And believe me, I heard this line all the time. People didn’t like to think about death, car wrecks, or natural disasters when I was trying to explain to them the benefits of life, auto, and home insurance. This brand of willful ignorance is one of the most dangerous mindsets of all, because it doesn’t even acknowledge the possibility of disaster, much less plan for it. Refusing to think about bad things doesn’t keep them from happening. These events are out of our control, but our actions before, during, and after them are not. Clue into reality, realize the threats you face, and then prepare accordingly. Facing reality and dealing with it is far more cathartic than ignoring it. Try it.
4. The fourth and final reason is that people claimed they simply didn’t know what to do, so they did nothing.
This one is partly forgivable, not because there’s a lack of information, but because there’s a surplus of it. The official documents from FEMA tell you one thing, the prepper community tells you another. There are different schools of thought regarding how long you should prepare for, what you should bring, whether or not you should have guns in your kit (not sure why that one’s even a question), whether you should bug out or stay in, and so on. Much of the information is high-quality, but a lot of it isn’t. This is true across the survival sphere, which is rife with tactical internet ninjas with no real-world experience who are absolutely certain that what they’re saying is correct… just pay them $49.95 for their preparedness e-book and they’ll prove it to you. And I suppose this one goes back to the issue of not enough time as well. Research takes precious time. A lot of us don’t have hours to go down internet rabbit trails that may or may not be worthwhile. But the information is still out there. In the age of the internet, there is no excuse for ignorance. Even if you have to sift through a lot of crap to find it, there is still a lot of high-quality information out there. And as we’ll explain in a moment, we’ll be providing some of that.
The moral of the story is that for a few days at least, no one is coming to save you. You are on your own. Even if you didn’t take the time to prepare, even if you didn’t want to believe a disaster was going to happen, and whether you knew what to do or not, that storm is still coming. With this knowledge in mind, are you ready? Do you really have enough supplies on hand to survive in your home for two weeks, through the bitter cold of an ice storm or the muggy heat of a post-tornado summer? Do you have what you need to get by for twenty-four hours if you get stuck at the office? And if things get really, really bad, do you have the bag you’ll need to grab as you head out the door?
Statistically, you don’t. Chances are, you’ve got enough clean water and nonperishable food to last you a day or two and that’s it.
We can see this playing out before our eyes right now in Texas and Florida. Lots and lots of people succumbed to normalcy bias and were caught totally unprepared. They chose to stick their heads in the sand and believe that everything would be fine. Brave first responders from several surrounding states, responding to a mutual aid call, are risking their lives to save them. I can say with absolutely no exaggeration that people will die because they weren’t prepared, and rescuers will die trying to save them. I say it with certainty because it always happens. Just like during Katrina, Sandy, Rita, Andrew, or any of the other names we all know. And it breaks my heart and fills me with anger, because in many cases, it was completely preventable.
This hurricane cloud has a few silver linings. One is that it brings a heightened awareness to the issue of disaster preparedness. Families watch the news and realize that they might better put a kit together. Media outlets share articles from FEMA and the Red Cross about how to prepare. And for some, it translates into action. They stockpile food, water, and medical supplies. They join CERT. They make an evacuation plan. And we hope that if you’re not prepared, that this is the effect it has on you, that it’s a wakeup call that helps spur you to action. Irmageddon has passed pretty uneventfully in our part of Georgia. Some weaker trees went down and we got a Biblical rainstorm out of the deal, but that was pretty much it. Other parts of the state were not so fortunate, and our prayers are with them.
Once the rain stops and the stores re-stock their shelves, act. Don’t wait until the next time. When that next storm comes, you’ll wish you’d prepared now. What exactly do you need to prepare for, and how do go about it? In the coming weeks, we’ll help answer some of those questions. Our basic level of preparedness goes something like this:
- 2-week minimum stockpile at home
- 24-hour stockpile at work
- 24-hour, or “Get Home” bag to get you from work to home
- 72-hour, or “Bug Out” bag in case you have to evacuate your home
There’s much more to preparedness, especially long-term preparedness, than just this. But this will cover you for the majority of disasters that you will likely face.
The other silver lining of this hurricane is that it shows us all what we’re really made of, and truly brings out the best in us as Americans. We as a nation are at our finest in times of trial and hardship. Despite how much anger and hate has been hanging in the air, and how much the media has played it all up and done its damnest to divide us, when disaster strikes, we have no problem laying all of that aside. Ordinary people become heroes and we all come together to help one another out. It’s one of the things that affirms my belief that we live in the greatest nation on earth.
In light of that, we encourage you to take action, no matter how seemingly small, to help out. If you and yours are taken care of, move outward. One thing we teach in disaster response is “start where you stand.” Meaning, look around, and fulfill the first need you see. Then go to the next. And the next. And so on. See what your church is doing to help. Check with a local food bank. There are plenty of needs to fulfill, find one and go for it. In the meantime, pray for the families affected, and the first responders heading there to help them.
Our next post in this series will be how to assemble 2-week stockpile of disaster supplies in your home, so standby for that. And if you like this post, share it with your friends! Thanks!