by Chris Tarver
“Preparation through education is less costly than learning through tragedy”
– Max Mayfield, Director National Hurricane Center
Most homes do not have more than a couple of days of food and water. In New York City, people called “kitchenistas”, do not even keep food in their apartments. They use their kitchens as a closet, storing shoes in the fridge and sweaters in the stove. (Swerdloff) This phenomenon is found in cities with apartments smaller than the average living room.
Get a kit. Make a plan. Be informed. These three steps to disaster planning are from the American Red Cross. They advocate getting a disaster kit with food, water, first aid, flashlights, and a weather radio. Also, they say to make a disaster plan for your family. They tell you to be on the ball about threats to your family’s safety. This commonsense approach to preparedness is catching on. People are becoming more aware, and indeed preparing for disasters due to encouragement by government agencies and organizations like the Red Cross. In addition, increased media coverage, advertising of preparedness products, and response to recent disasters also encourage preparedness planning.
In the wake of 9/11, when terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and 4 years later during the Hurricane Katrina recovery, a concerted effort was made by the government to make the public aware of the advantages of being prepared. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and state agencies campaigned for everyone to have a disaster kit. The Red Cross and the Salvation Army also advocate being prepared. The Boy Scouts have always seen the need to be prepared; “Be Prepared” has been their motto for over 100 years. It is so important to be ready that the United States Coast Guard’s motto is “Semper Paratus”, or “Always Prepared,”
FEMA advocates everyone in a household having a “72-hour” kit, or enough supplies to survive at least 72 hours, if not five days. The reasoning behind this recommendation is that FEMA is coming to help, but it might take a little while to get to you. However, government emergency management agencies emphasize that the more you are prepared, and the longer you can wait, the better it will be. It took FEMA five days to get water to the emergency shelters at the Superdome in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The people were not equipped for the wait, therefore many suffered and died. The need to have supplies is evident.
This need is so evident in fact, an assistant director of the Center of Disease Control wrote a preparedness blog entry, using the well worn media invention of a zombie apocalypse, to increase awareness. This tongue-in-cheek writing proposes to answer the question of how to prepare for a zombie apocalypse. They are “here to answer that question for you, and hopefully share a few tips about preparing for real emergencies too!” (Khan) In the post, the usual preparedness tips are emphasized, like gathering supplies, such as a gallon of water per person per day and first aid supplies. However, in the zombie apocalypse context, other survival tips are given, for example picking a meeting place for your family to regroup “in case zombies invade your home.” (Khan) The idea of sitting down with loved ones and put in place a contingency plan if you must evacuate was emphasized. The post was wildly popular, and the response to it crashed the CDC’s server. It also reached out to a demographic not usually concerned with emergency preparedness.
Sheople (sheep + people), a derogative term coined by survival experts when talking about the unprepared, usually disregard any warning and go throughout their day “asleep.” This attitude has been crafted by several years of localized events which had no impact on them. They are blissfully unaware of impending circumstances until they are affected by them. They, like an ostrich, bury their head in the sand, cup their hands over their ears, and sing, “LALALA.” When an emergency occurs, sheople are typically the ones whose daily lives are upset the worst. Worse yet, they were going to make a kit, but procrastinated until it was too late. However, because of the recent disasters both natural and manmade, many of the sheople are “waking up.”
Business owners are waking up also. After Hurricane Katrina, Wal-Mart and sporting goods stores had weather radios and other supplies for sale. In the weeks following the recent tornadoes and flooding, ads featuring weather radios started popping up in grocery and drug store circulars. The marquee of Walgreens shows the price of an EverAlert® weather radio as being only $29.99. Also, due to the severe weather, there has been resurgence of interest in the construction of a safe room or storm shelter. Online, retailers are running out of preparedness supplies, especially food. Because of increased demand, the shipping times for cases of Mountain House® freeze-dried foods are weeks and months, instead of days. Emergency Essentials (beprepared.com) is just one website which has not only preparedness supplies, but also in depth articles to help one plan for a crisis.
“You plan to fail when you fail to plan.” Truer words were never spoken, especially in an emergency. A plan may include evacuation routes out of the city to a safe(r) place. It might include sheltering in place with supplies, waiting out the storm. How about a plan to get home from the office? A multilevel plan with options based on real world risks is best. You start by asking yourself what kinds of emergencies are typical in my area. “Mad Max” style of world ending apocalypse or emergency is probably not going to occur. However, hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, or a house fire are much more likely. Then you start planning accordingly.
Some people ask, “Why bother to plan for a disaster?” They say it is a waste of time and money to have emergency supplies that may never be utilized. They believe God or the government will provide. Do these people get mad when they buy car insurance and never have an accident? Being prepared is another form of insurance. For instance, do you buy life insurance expecting to die? No. Do you buy homeowners insurance expecting to be in a tornado, flood, or have a fire? No. You buy those types of insurance for peace of mind and for just in case. Same idea goes for preparedness. You make a plan, gather food, water, and tools, and hope never to use them. However, you have them just in case. It’s better to have something and not need it, than to need it and not have it.
Thus, in the wake of the many record breaking disasters over the last six months of 2011, and prior catastrophic events, people are slowly becoming cognizant of the risk. From the 1950s to now, there has been both a quantitative and a qualitative increase in catastrophe. Widespread coverage of these episodes by the media and government warnings to get prepared has filtered through the rose colored glasses of more and more people. Whether or not people are prepared, there is one truth. Prepared people have a propensity to survive. I am prepped and ready for an emergency. Are you?
Khan, Ali. “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.” Public Health Matters Blog. Centers for Disease Control, 05 16 2011. Web. 23 Jun 2011. <http://blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthmatters/2011/05/preparedness-101-zombie-apocalypse/>.
Swerdloff, Alexis. “The Kitchen is My Closet, Meet The Kitchenistas — New Yorkers Who Store Their Clothes in Ovens and Fridges.” New York Post 03 30 2010: n. pg. Web. 23 Jun 2011. <http://www.nypost.com/p/entertainment/fashion/the_kitchen_is_my_closet_wR2GAtwboSO9f8W16mnC8K>.