The Very Hard Truth About Your Next Major Natural Disaster

A discussion of some tough-to-swallow disaster preparedness truths, by Jonathan Bernstein

If you’ve been denial about disaster preparedness, this may be a good time for you to avert your eyes, because you’re not going to like what I have to say.  It centers around this quote by an Emergency Services Coordinator from Pasadena, CA, as reported by Pasadena Now.

“Please get your emergency preparedness kits together because I’m here to tell you the City has nothing for you. We have no extra food, no extra water for you, and it all comes down to who you see in the mirror as far as getting prepared,” Lisa Derderian told members of the Rotary Club of Pasadena.

I will add that, in the event of your area’s next major natural (or even large man-made) disaster, you also can NOT rely on:

  • Your family (who probably can’t get to you unless they’re in easy walking distance, and maybe not even then)
  • Your friends (they have their own lives to save)
  • Your neighbors (ditto)
  • Getting out of town (all the roads will be jammed, and looters/thieves/other criminals will be doing all they can to take advantage of those stranded)
  • Getting any supplies from any local establishments (they will sell out – or be robbed – quickly)
  • Protection from criminal predators (police will be overwhelmed)

What that leaves you with is to be fully self-sufficient, to include having:

  • Ideally, one week’s worth of essential food, water and other supplies for each resident of your household, including pets.
  • Fuel for generators, assuming you have one.
  • A realistic (given the initial set of bullet points above) “what if our residence is rendered uninhabitable by a disaster” plan.
  • Backup communications devices (e.g. battery powered walkie talkies and a large supply of batteries). Cellphone service often gets seriously damaged in disasters.
  • Making your house more burglar-resistant (some desperate people who wouldn’t normally commit crimes will take your stuff if they run out).

Mike McKenna is founder and Response Leadership consultant for TEAM Solutions.  He’s the guy who emergency responders ask to help THEM upgrade their skills.  I asked Mike, part of my firm’s virtual crisis management team, to comment on this topic.

“For better or worse, we can only do what we are trained to do.  And that training starts with having a survivor’s mindset instead of a victim’s mindset,” he said.

“In over 20 years of responding to someone else’s bad day, some trends naturally emerged.  For instance, even those folks that just have a bag of beef jerky and a bottle of Yoo-hoo can still overcome the disruption by having the right mindset coupled with some relevant training on what to do and not do.”

Here’s what to do, according to Mike McKenna:

  • Contact your local Emergency Management office now to find out what services are available and what type of disasters they suggest you plan for. They have done the hard work answering the “what if?” question, so be sure to learn from them.  Consider taking advantage of volunteer opportunities within your local emergency management community, too.
  • When the big, bad and ugly event you need to avoid is defined, have a family huddle soon and agree to the outcomes you want for you and your family. This will define your family’s level of risk tolerance.  You may want to bail to a safe house when the wind starts blowing, or you may decide to ride it out until the last minute.  Everyone’s mileage varies a little bit.
  • Once the outcome is defined, chart a path from where you are to that outcome. Want to end up at the Hilton after a hurricane?  Easier said than done.  Charting it all out will shine a light on your deficiencies.  Be honest and don’t worry, everyone has response deficiencies!
  • Those gaps – whether tools, supplies, or training – become your list of action items needed to improve your resilience. Make sure you take action on them.
  • Once you have your plan, your kit and your mindset, re-assemble your squad and practice what you intend to do when life goes sideways. Expect mistakes and newly exposed deficiencies, that means you’re trying.  Press on and take good notes.
  • Rinse and repeat until your family feels like you’ve all done your best to be ready.

Even the largest disasters start locally and eventually end locally, as any emergency manager will tell you.  Simply put: resilience starts at home.  Are you going to be a victim, or a survivor?


[Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc.]

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