Know you will be ready when disaster strikes
Disaster can strike at any time. According to FEMA’s records the 3-year average number of disasters has increased 665% since 1953. The average number of disasters from 1953-1955 was 48. The average number of disasters from 2015-2017 was 319. (FEMA records date back to 1953. No information was available prior to 1953.)
One question I always ask is, “do you have an emergency/readiness plan”? I ask this question of everyone, folks that claim to be “prepared”, prepper vendors, and prepper expo attendees.
The answers are split between two camps, some say they do, some say they do not. Of those who answered, they have a plan I ask, “Is it on paper”? Here the answer is almost always the same – “it is in my head”. My reply is, “then you do not have a ‘plan’, you have an ‘idea’ for a plan”. Most agree with me, yes, they only have an idea for a plan. I have had two couples who said they actually had a written plan. Two couples out of the hundreds of people I have asked this question actually had a written emergency/readiness plan. Those are not great statistics.
Picture this – you are standing in your yard or neighborhood. Everything around you is destroyed. The homes that once stood all along the street are gone, the stores are gone, trees and power poles lay scattered everywhere like a giant game of pick up sticks. You grab your cell phone to call for help – but your phone has no signal. The cell towers have been destroyed along with the power.
As your gaze continues around – you see the smoke starting to rise from the numerous fires surrounding you. Slowly, as the ringing in your ears ebbs away, you hear the cries of help from the people injured during the storm. All that you owned is now a pile of rubble. Where your beautiful home once stood stands a few boards and some pipes.
As you stand there in shock at the devastation, you realize you are covered in blood from several cuts you sustained during the storm. What will you do? What can you do?
As you stand there bleeding, confused, frightened, and bewildered you realize you have nothing left. You were not ready for such a storm. You think to yourself – “Why did I put off planning for such an event?” You had thought about planning for an event such as this for a long time. You even attended Prepper Shows a couple of times and bought some stuff to prepare for such an event. You had not even thought about it since you stored it all in the garage. The same garage that was now scattered all over the neighborhood. You convinced yourself, you knew what to do. The plan for dealing with a tragedy like this was safely tucked away inside your head.
Well, that tragedy was here, and you are standing among the rubble of the destruction, but all of the ideas of what you would do now are replaced with nothing. You cannot bring one idea to mind. Fear and uncertainty have left you empty and dejected. You ask yourself – “Where is my family?”
The events described above play out more often that one might think. Over the years I have been at disaster sites that look worse than some war zones. In fact, I have seen war zones less destroyed than some disaster sites. Neither site is something you will ever forget. What is readily apparent are the people who had a plan and were ready when disaster struck. Unfortunately, they are few. Most folks like the person described in this short-story are standing or sitting dejectedly on a tree or curb waiting for someone to tell them what to do.
Waiting for someone to come help or at least tell you what to do is an option. Albeit, in my opinion, it is not a very good option. If you select this option, you must hope the person telling you knows what to do and that it is the right thing to do. When disaster strikes there are actions that should and should not be taken. Depending on the situation, some actions can make a bad situation worse. So, yes, not having a plan and allowing other to take charge is an option.
Another option, and a better option, is to create your own Readiness Plan before disaster strikes. The time for planning is before disaster occurs, not after. There are too many emotions coursing through your mind to logically and rationally focus on a sensible course of action during and after a disaster happens.
The time to develop a sensible course of action is before the disaster occurs. Before a disaster strikes you are able to use the prefrontal cortex portions of your mind. The prefrontal cortex is the portion of your mind that controls your higher reasoning functions. Stress such as fear shuts down the prefrontal cortex preventing you from thinking straight. During an event, such as the one described here, our lesser reasoning takes over, our lesser instincts. These baser instincts allow for only 3 options – fight, flight, or freeze. None of which are usually good options during a disaster or after.
In 2016, the United States had 91 natural catastrophe events. From 1900 to 2016 over 41,369 people lost their life due to natural disasters. (https://www.statista.com/statistics/236509/number-of-fatalities-from-natural-disasters-in-the-us/). Over the years disasters have risen. Today it is not a question of if a disaster will strike, but when, and even how often? Ellicott City, Maryland has experienced w “1,000-year” floods in two years.
To be truly ready (aka prepared) you need a Readiness Plan. Businesses have Business Plans to ensure their success. The military creates and rehearses an Operation Plan to ensure their success. To ensure success a plan is a necessary tool. Your plan should be well thought out and rehearsed. The more frequently your plan is rehearsed, the better it will be retained in your muscle memory. Muscle memory are those actions we do without conscious thought. Some common muscle memory actions we normally do are breath and drive a car. These are actions we do without really thinking about doing them. We have done them so often we now do them automatically. That is what you want when it comes to your Readiness Plan. This way when an event occurs you will automatically follow your plan, even if you are not able to “think straight”. This automatic reaction can often save your life and the life of those you care about.
Now that we know we need a Readiness Plan, how do we create one, and what should it include? A few thoughts regarding your plan. Your plan is for you and those in your group only! Keep your plan secure and away from anyone who does not need to know what you and yours will do before, during and after an event. My years of working in a classified environment has reinforced this concept. We at Great Living Sources will never discuss your plan with anyone except the ones who have requested we do their plan. The information we collect is kept on an external device and never stored online. Once we have your plan completed the information is archived and secured on a DVD in case you need an additional copy.
Additionally, your Readiness Plan is a living document. This means once your written plan it is continuously updated and/or modified. Why would a plan need modified? One reason, as circumstances change your plan will need to reflect these changes. Alternatively, as you rehearse your plan you will likely identify items you need or actions you will need to execute. All of these need to be reflected in your plan.
What should your plan include?
The first thing your plan should address is what event should the plan cover? The first event you should consider is the event that keeps you awake at night. If there is more than one, then select the event that is the most likely to occur. For example, a person living on the coast would likely want a plan that covers a hurricane. Someone living in a low-lying area would likely want a plan that covers flooding. You want to focus your attention on one problem at a time. If you try to tackle too much at once you are likely to become overwhelmed which will lead to frustration and cause you to just give up or quit.
The plan should also cover secondary events. A secondary event is an event that is triggered by a primary event. For example, a hurricane could be a primary event; a secondary event could be looting. Other secondary events could be power outages, flooding, and others. In other words, a plan should address the possible repercussions of a primary event, in addition to the primary event itself.
While addressing the event you will want to address what will trigger the execution of your Readiness Plan? A trigger is an event or happening that leads you to believe the event your plan is designed for is about to occur. Using the example of the hurricane above, when forecasters have issued a hurricane warning for your area, do not wait until the hurricane is coming ashore before you execute your plan. It is likely too late by then. When the hurricane warning is issued that should be the trigger that sets your Readiness Plan into motion.
The plan should include the resources you anticipate you will need to endure the event. Resources include food, water, tools, etc. that might be necessary to endure the event. After you know what resources you will need determine the quantity of these resources needed. A good friend of mine thinks like I do, but she said it best, “One is none”. If there is an item crucial to your survival, always have a spare. If this item breaks, is lost or stolen, or otherwise becomes unavailable if it is the only one you have, the risk to your survival is great.
After you have determined what you will need and how many of each item you will need, inventory the resources available to you. Most folks have at least a weeks’ worth of groceries in their panty. These items are part of your “stockpile”, there are your resources. After you know what you have available, what resources do you need to have adequate materials to endure the event your plan covers. In other words, what is the delta between what you have on hand, and what you anticipate you will require to successfully survive a disaster? That is what you should then focus your attention on.
Resources also includes skills necessary to successfully survive a disaster. Determine what skills you would need to survive the event you are planning for and what skills you already have. Create a prioritized list of the skills you need and focus your attention on acquiring these skills.
Course of Action
Your plan should include what actions you will take before, during and after a disaster. This includes actions that should be “no brainer”. These actions could include picking up children from school, after school activities, from a friend’s house, etc. Every action you will want/need to accomplish before an event should be spelled out in your list. Remember, as you rehearse your plan the more your plan is instilled in your muscle memory. By listing every action, you must take before, during and after an event and then more you rehearse them, the more likely you will accomplish them even if you are not thinking clearly. You want to anticipate every action you will need to execute before, during and after the event occurs.
The plan should include what actions you expect the “event” will do. If you are planning for a hurricane event, where does history suggest the likely track will be?
[Note: During the event, you will want to be aware of the storm’s actual track. If the event is a human-influenced event (i.e. civil unrest, terrorist attack, etc.), what actions do you anticipate will be taken by them? What action(s) will you want/need to take?]
It is assumed that the location you will be during the event is a sheltered location (typically your primary residence). If this is not the case, what will you do for shelter?
Will you shelter in place or bug out to another location? What is the terrain like around the location you will be sheltering (this information may help in the decision to stay put or bug out).
If you are part of a support network, or have friends/family as part of your group their actions or “assignments” should also be listed in your plan? Where are they going to be located? What will they do before, during, and after the event? Where will they link up with the rest of the group?
Family Emergency Communication Plan
This section contains pertinent household information. Information such as Points of Contact for schools, work, doctor, insurance company (home/car), mortgage company, veterinarian, kennel, electric company, gas company, water company, etc. During a natural disaster, this information may be lost or destroyed if the house is destroyed. Having this information on hand can speed up the process of getting assistance and getting back to normal life.
School, Childcare, and caregiver emergency plans
The plan should cover who will pick up kids at daycare or school, if the parents are unable to get there. Ensure the school, childcare or caregiver has permission slips allowing someone, other than the parents, to pick up the children.
Emergency Meeting Places
Make a list of realistic meeting locations needs to be identified. This list should include places that are out any potential danger of being compromised due to the event covered in the plan. These locations should be strategically considered and may be outside of the immediate area. Consider locations that are located in out-of-town neighborhoods or other family members. This is important for times when someone from your family (or group) is out-of-town when the event occurs.
Identify a trusted friend or family member who resides out of your immediate area (e.g. another state) to be a contact. During an event, phone and cell phone systems can be destroyed and/or overwhelmed. Family and friends attempting to contact the family in the impacted area will not be able to get in touch. Having a contact outside of the impacted area can give family and friends reassurance of those in the affected area are safe. This help alleviate concern for those in the impacted area.
The family, in the impacted area, contacts their out-of-town contact once they can access the phone/cell system. Family and friends are then able to contact the out-of-town contact. The phone/cell systems outside of the impacted area are less likely to be compromised than the system inside of the impacted area. The out-of-town contact can let other family and friends know what is going on and where those who are in the affected area will go.
The obverse of this is also true. If, after a reasonable amount of time, the outside point-of-contact does not hear from those in the affected area, they can contact the authorities to have someone check and ensure those in the affected area are doing okay.
A Written Plan
Why must a plan be written? “I have the plan in my head, I don’t need to write it down”. I tell folks if their plan is in their head, it is an idea not a plan. There are several reasons having a plan in your head is not a good idea. First, and foremost, when a catastrophic event occurs there is a good chance that you will experience fear. When that happens, as described above, the ability to carry out higher reasoning is diminished. This can result in making decisions that are not logical or rationale. Making illogical or irrational decisions can have deadly consequences.
Another reason to have a plan that is written down, and not in someone’s head is, in the event the person with the “plan” is killed or rendered unconscious, no one else in the group has access to the plan. With a written plan, anyone in the group can continue execution of the plan. Additionally, having a written plan allows you, or someone in your group, to follow the plan even if they cannot think due to fear or the chaos occurring renders them unable to think straight.
Having a written plan gives you something to focus on during the critical first few moments of an emergency until you are able to gather yourself together and begin to execute sound decisions using your higher reasoning abilities.
Why not just have a digital plan? A digital plan is great, unless the power goes out, or the batteries die, or the device is damaged. As soon as the electrons that make up the digital plan go out, so does the plan. In the Army, we used digital maps. Digital maps are usually on a mobile device such as a laptop. The joke was if our laptop with our maps got a bullet in it – we had junk. However, with a paper map, if it got a bullet hole in it, we still had a map. The same is true with your plan. If the device that contains your plan takes a bullet, or is otherwise damaged, you have junk. If you have a written plan, and it takes a bullet you still have a plan.
An emergency/readiness plan is a living document. It is not designed to be created and then put in a glass box that says, “Break glass in case of emergency”. The plan is meant to be used, rehearsed, and updated as additional information is gathered. Every time the plan is rehearsed additional information, or situations may come to light. This additional information should be rolled into the plan. The plan should be modified to encapsulate this new information. Additionally, circumstance may change over time. When the plan was written the current set of circumstances may have changed from when the plan was first created. This change in circumstances may be identified during the rehearsals that may not have come to light until the actual need occurred. If the event has occurred and the situation changed, but was not identified until the plan’s execution, it is too late.
You should rehearse your plan at least twice a year. Once a quarter is preferred, more often is better. If you have little ones, include them in the rehearsal. Make a game out of the rehearsal. This will help them to remain calm when an event occurs. They will get used to the rehearsal so when the real thing occurs it will not be as frightening.
A written emergency/readiness plan can and will save your life. Can you survive without one? Yes, you might survive, but do you really want to rely on “hope” to survive a catastrophic event? Or would you rather have plan so your odds are much better that you and those you care about will survive? My choice is to have a plan and put the odds in my favor that those I care about will survive whatever event we might face.
My goal is to give you and those you care about the best chance of surviving whatever disaster may be encountered. Over the years, I have helped write and/or have written countless plans. These plans include Joint and Army level military operation plans, special operation plans, Recovery operation plans, real-world natural disaster training scenarios, plans that cover natural and human-influenced disasters, and recovery plans, among others. The successful results of having and rehearsing a plan dramatically improves your chance of enduring a catastrophic event.
- Have a well thought out written plan with contingencies
- Have an out-of-town contact
- Have a list of important phone numbers and account numbers
- Know where everyone will meet
- Rehearse your plan
- Modify/update your plan
These are just a few ideas to get you thinking about your Readiness Plan. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will help you create a plan that will keep you and those you care about safe.
Scientists: Natural Disasters Becoming More Common
FEMA – Disasters by Year
Number of Fatalities Caused by Natural Disaster – 1900 – 2016
List of Disasters in United States
Ellicott City, Maryland – 1000-year flood