Mayans. Zombies. A nuclear meltdown. A biblical Apocalypse. No matter who you attribute it to, today’s society seems fascinated with the immanency of disaster. It’s the same mentality that has bred hundreds of end-of-the-world blockbusters and reality series like A&E’s Doomsday Preppers
, all of which pose hypothetical approaches to catastrophic scenarios.
Dramatic, yes; but even the most pragmatic would agree with the concept of preparedness. We’ve seen our share of real-world disasters, after all: tsunamis, radioactive contamination, devastating hurricanes, terrorist attacks… incidents that leave us standing in their wake, thinking “What do we do now?
Disaster planning, in theory, curbs panic and prevents these situations from becoming anymore disastrous than necessary. More often, the issues resulting from the event are more damaging than the event itself, when you look at latent effects like disease, anarchy, dehydration and starvation. But, come Hell or high water, there are certain survival guidelines you can follow to help you cope with the aftermath of disaster. First Actions
In times of disaster, we must not forget that emergency personnel are often facing the same circumstances as those they’re meant to rescue. For that reason, “Bystander response is critical,” says Dr. Nicole Lurie, Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response for the US Department of Health and Human Services. “You and your neighbors and your coworker are really the very first responders. You need to know who your lifelines are, who’s depending on you and who you can depend on to help you when the chips are down. Know what you need to do to stay healthy and safe and how to help others in an emergency.”
While this may seem like a lot of responsibility for the layman to assume, there are tools available to hones your rescue skills. “Take a first aid class. Participate in local emergency drills. Talk to your kids, family, friends and neighbors about what all of you need from each other and how you’d react,” Dr. Lurie suggests. “If you’re at the store when a storm hits, how will you find out if your kids or your elderly parents are ok? Think it through so you know what to do. [Tools like] the bReddi
app can help you do it in a fun way.”
Having a plan is particularly critical for what Stuart Haskin, Orange County Sergeant Reserve Deputy Sheriff, calls “the forgotten population”: persons with developmental disabilities. Haskin founded an organization called Get Safe
™ that offers violence prevention, safety education and awareness programs to people of all ages, including those with disabilities. Their communication and cognitive limitations make them more vulnerable to the dangers of disaster situations. They might not have the same survival instincts or response time that guide many of us through crisis. According to the National Organization on Disability (NOD):
- 58 percent of people with disabilities say they do not know who to contact about emergency plans for their community in the event of a terrorist attack or other crisis.
- 61 percent say that they have not made plans to evacuate their homes quickly and safely.
- 50 percent of those who are employed full- or part-time say that no plans have been made to evacuate their workplace safety.
These statistics show that practice and preparation are key for these individuals in order to ensure their safety. Neighbors, family members or caretakers should work with them to develop a plan should disaster strike. It may also be beneficial to create a card listing important contacts for the disabled individual to carry with them should they get separated from their guardian. The Basics: Food and Water
These essential items quickly become priority after being displaced in a disaster, even a minor one. Dehydration is quick to set in and, depending on the nature of the disaster, clean drinking water could become a scarce commodity. According to HHS, the standard requirement is a gallon per day per person for drinking and sanitation. It is never a bad idea to have jugs of water on hand in case you lose access to the faucets. Products like the AquaStorage AquaPodKit
can store up to 65 gallons of fresh water using an household bathtub.
But what if you find yourself without clean water? This is the favorite scenario of every survival show, wherein they flaunt their various caveman tactics for sanitizing, trapping and consuming water (enema, anyone?) But modern technology does have its advantages. New filter technologies serve to purify water to a point where it is safe for consumption.
Dr. Lurie also suggests listening to public service announcements to see if public water sources are contaminated and if boiling or sanitation is necessary, or a futile measure. Your Emergency Kit
In addition to water and non-perishable food items, you should always keep an emergency cache of provisions that you need on a daily basis. These include simple items such as a can opener for the food you packed, a flashlight, an extra pair of eye glasses, pet supplies (if applicable) like canned food and a leash, and a solar-powered battery charger for your cell phone. It is preferable that you use this form of communication over a landline as you might not have the electricity to operate a home phone and responders often need to use the lines for emergency communication.
However outdated amongst today’s technology, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio could prove vital. If electricity is down, emergency organizations will often rely on this medium to get important messages to the public. Whether you are dealing with a natural disaster, a national emergency or even an outbreak of disease, it is critical that you stay informed and know how the local responders want you to proceed. It will be easier for them to provide life-saving assistance if you are following their protocol.
You must also be mindful of your medical needs. If possible, keep an extra week’s worth of essential medications on hand in case it is lost or unable to be refilled. Consider that some medications have to be refrigerated to maintain potency, so consider stocking a cooler bag or some other method of preservation. When pharmacies reopen, most health insurance and Medicare will cover replacement medications. Shelter
Having access to adequate shelter during times of disaster is perhaps the best way to ensure protection and peace of mind. Whether you are taking cover from a tornado or an air-raid, a sturdy structure could mean the difference between life and death. The US Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, provides many resources for locating shelters in your town should there be an emergency, but they also provide specifications
for building your own safe room. FEMA outlines standards of safety for structures according to their location (underground or in your basement) and material (concrete, wood, steel, etc.)
While the hope is that you will never have to rely on this shelter, having the option will provide you peace of mind. The Latent Dangers
Your physical safety and health is not the only imminent concern. Mental and behavioral health are equally tried in times of turmoil. “Every disaster can impact behavioral health, because disasters affect people’s jobs, their livelihoods, their homes and their families,” says Dr. Lurie. “After disasters we often see an increase in people suffering from stress, depression, domestic violence or alcoholism, sometimes even suicide. These are very real, serious, consequences of disasters.
To cope with these residual issues, there are government organizations that specialize in psychological first aid. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
offers material on behavioral health that includes how to talk with your children about emergency situations and post-disaster emotions. They also offer a Disaster Distress HelpLine
that provides 24-7 crisis counseling for those in need of additional support services.
“The entire community and our nation need to be prepared for the psychological impact of disasters,” warns Dr. Lurie. “The more prepared we are, the healthier we are, and - even more importantly - the stronger our social network of family and friends is, the more likely we are to be resilient when faced with disaster.”Disaster Drama
As people and organizations work to prepare for real-life disasters, it remains a question as to whether all the dramatized disaster shows and films serve to emphasize the importance of preparedness or just fuel public fear.
Dr. Lurie sees some benefit. “Ultimately, disaster planning needs to become part of our culture overall. Drawing attention to the need to prepare can help shift the culture. And being creative is helpful.” Creative, like small-screen series and programs like the CDC’s zombie campaign.
“It was off-the-wall enough and fun enough to bring attention to the need to plan for disasters. But it obviously wasn’t serious even though the topic and the advice were serious.”
Still, she has concerns. “Some of the TV shows are hard to take seriously. It’s easy to see doomsday-ers as extreme and when being prepared is viewed as off-norm, that doesn’t help. I’d like to see shows about what real people did in emergencies, what they learned, what do they wish they’d known and done before the disaster, what they would do differently. Those real life stories can be very powerful. The same goes for video games. I’d love to see a tornado hit Farmville.”Tech Tools
As Dr. Lurie points out, social media platforms like Facebook (home to Farmville) can be an incredible tool for finding information, getting updates and reconnecting in times of disaster. For example, the Ministry of National Security hosts an Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management app
on their Facebook page, and is among over 500 other emergency management group pages. You can also follow organizations like Health and Human Services (@HHSGov) and CDC Emergency Preparedness and Response (@CDCEmergency) on Twitter for alerts and live updates.
These social platforms also provide an effective organizational tool for individuals to communicate with others in preparation for or during a disaster. The pages’ constant traffic, broad impact and instant updatability make them ideal for situations in which you need to get the word out fast. In past disasters, individuals have used these tools to alert family members of their safety or location, or even request assistance. They are also excellent for organizing post-disaster relief efforts or creating support groups in the wake of tragedy.
There is truth to that old cliché “You can never be too prepared.” Even if you encounter a situation you never anticipated, be it a Zombie invasion or a bad storm, having a plan and provisions could make a lifesaving difference. At the very least, you will have peace of mind. At the very most, you will have your health and safety.