Improve Your Readiness. Improve Your Resilience.
Updated: Apr 13
What is up with the hording of toilet paper, bottled water, bread and hand sanitizer? It isn't quite the right stuff, but at least they will have water and toilet paper when the (Insert Disaster Here) hits.
This is a teachable moment in disaster education. Most of us got caught unprepared: no extras on hand, no emergency stash, no savings, no plan, no measures to keep emotionally safe and no idea what we should have on hand for sheltering in place. Most of us were caught emotionally unprepared.
For many, it is the first time that we can see what disaster might look like. This event is an opportunity to learn to be resilient and teach your children to be resilient, one of the top goals of parenting. It is an opportunity to think beyond the current crisis and plan how you can become prepared to handle more.
There is a difference between an emergency and a disaster. When you have an emergency, you call 9-1-1 and local help arrives within minutes. Suppose there is a fire in a large apartment building in your town. Fire departments from neighboring towns would come to help. In a disaster, it is as though every town around you has apartment building fires and they are not coming to help. It also means that your own fire department can’t come to help you at your home.
One night a rookie cop was called to a stabbing outside a bar. The victim had been stabbed 6 or 7 times, but he had no defensive wounds. The officer asked the man why he hadn’t fought back or at least run away. The man said that when the knife first went in, he looked down and could not believe it had happened. He stood there incredulous as the knife was shoved into his body repeatedly. Consider the possibilities of what can happen so you can be prepared and have a plan.
How do you prepare for a disaster? Gregory Thomas was in charge of safety and security in New York City schools on September 11, 2001. There were a number of schools around the Trade Towers in Manhattan. There were no plans for anything like this. All they had was Y2K planning done in 1999. That was their starting point. Gregory says “You can’t plan for the unthinkable. You can only plan for the thinkable.”
Wouldn’t it have been nice to have had a plan, stocks of food…and toilet paper, before the recent social distancing? Plan and prepare for things you can imagine, like a week without a specific utility starting today. Then add another. Take it in small steps. Think about the “What if…?”.
What if you also had no electricity? You will need flashlights, headlamps, light sticks, a solar powered charger for your electronics as well as a stock of batteries. A camp stove, a grill or emergency heater meals can help you have warm food do eat. Have a supply of food that does not require refrigeration.
What if communications were down? You need a battery powered radio to hear emergency information. Get to know the amateur (Ham) radio operators in your neighborhood. Keep a list of family/friend phone numbers with you on a piece of paper in case the cell system and local lines are down. Since long distance land line calls are more likely to be operational, designate an out of region contact who can be your families’ communication hub. Keep a few “How To” books to use in lieu of internet resources.
What if there was no water? You will need 1 gallon of water per person and pet per day. You will need large biohazard bags to line your toilets in case you cannot flush.
What if the supply chain was actually halted? Your grocery store stocks enough food for 3 or 4 days on a good day. On the day of the disaster, any food that is salvageable will be gone in minutes to hours. Try to stock enough food, water, and real essentials for a week, then add from there. When they come close to expiration, you can consume them or donate to a local food bank.
What if it is not safe to stay home? You need a plan. What would you take with you? Stage a grab and go evacuation kit with the essentials. Consider your keepsakes and your important papers. Plan where you will meet up with others. Do you have another place to stay? Camping gear is good to have on hand in case you need to shelter outdoors.
What if transportation was halted? You may need to get home on foot with only what you carry with you or in your vehicle. In a disaster you may have detours, so your walk home may take days. Wear comfortable durable shoes. Wear outerwear that protects you from the elements. Pack a space blanket and rain poncho in backpacks, purses, vehicles, etc.
What if people are injured? Keep a well-stocked first aid kit at home and in your vehicle. Go heavy on the bandages and wraps. Stay current on your first aid skills. If it is available where you are, take FEMA’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) classes. Want to go deep into disaster medical? Take a wilderness or mountaineering first aid class.
What if you needed help? Work now to build and maintain strong relationships with family, as well as in your neighborhood and community.
What if you could not work and earn money? Save for emergencies and disaster. Keep a stash of cash at home. Think of a skill you have that you can barter.
What if it becomes overwhelming? Many of us are voraciously reading headlines, articles and blogs, looking for the latest developments. It becomes an addiction. We talk about it. We think about it. Each new tidbit elicits a dopamine hit to the reward centers of your brain. The fear heightens it. Dopamine is finite. One of my favorite quotes is by Bob Proctor "If you can hold it in your mind, you can hold it in your hand." Whatever you think of or speak about consistently is brought to you. Fear perpetuates more fear.
When you are fearful, you are controlled by the sympathetic fight/flight nervous system. In fight/flight, you are not properly digesting your food to nourish your body, your body is not repairing as it should, and you are not fully resting. Importantly, your immune system takes the back seat. When are running from the lion a more imminent danger, survival resources are used there. Stay alert, but focus on the good things in life, things that empower you to live a happy life. Accomplish things on your To Do list. Watch funny shows or videos, especially before bedtime. Think of 3 things for which you are grateful, and deeply feel that gratitude, before you fall asleep. Communicate with positive people.
What if I am distraught over the plight of others? Vicarious trauma is when you take on the perceived emotions of others as though they are your own. It is not an emotionally healthy place for you to be. Emergency responders aim for what they call “the zone”. They have empathy for those they help, but they don’t take ownership of their patient’s problems. Bad things happen to people. Try to stay in the zone. Have empathy, help them when you feel it is appropriate, but do not join them emotionally on their journey.
Resilience is the capacity to withstand and recover quickly from difficult conditions. The more resilient you are in life the better you will fare. The same applies to your children. When you model resilience, chances are that your children will respond similarly to similar situations when they are adults. Set goals and work step by step toward resilient health, a resilient home, resilient relationships, resilient finances and a resilient community.
There are behaviors that can help you. Where ever you go, check for exits and make a quick plan for how you would get to it. Fill your vehicle gas tank when it reaches the half full mark. Try to buy extras, backups of the products you use and the foods you eat. Shower at night instead of the morning. A night shower removes pollutants, allergens, pathogenic bacteria and pathogenic viruses. Otherwise, you are taking them into your bed.
Do one thing today that shifts you the direction of more resilience, even if it is ordering those little space blankets and rain ponchos. Just one action while you are feeling inspired increases the likelihood that you will keep going. This event is a springboard for you to take ownership of your safety. Please take advantage of it.
Book: The Unthinkable: Who Survives when Disaster Strikes and Why https://www.amandaripley.com/books
FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute Independent Study Program https://training.fema.gov/is/crslist.aspx
Find CERT training near you https://www.ready.gov/cert
Nancy Hovan Carpenter is a veteran disaster preparedness and response instructor in Washington state. She is an active Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) instructor. Nancy is an award-winning speaker and instructor. She is also an author and technical writer.