Truth be told: I have survivalist tendencies.
I don’t speak a lot about preparedness because I don’t want people to see me as a weirdo Doosmday Prepper, building a bunker in my basement and storing ammunition under my bed. (I am doing neither of those things, btw.) I am a planner by nature. So, emergency preparedness is a manifestation of that need to plan ahead and be prepared for any situation, especially now that I am a wife and mother and have more than myself to take care of.
I think my interest in survival scenarios started young. While some of my female peers were reading The Babysitter’s Club, I was reading books like Hatchet. When I was a bit older, my taste gravitated more toward dystopian apocalyptic literature and movies. Then, when I entered college, more toward outdoor survivalist and adventure stories. The “What would I do in this scenario?” question has always been exciting for me. When I had my first child, I developed a lot of post-partum anxiety. So, my natural need to feel prepared has been both a blessing and a curse.
Living in a city, we take for granted the fact that we can get anywhere we need to get, to get anything we need, at any time. But we should know better than that. I have no desire to breed fear or anxiety in other people (because, Lord knows, I have enough for myself), but do you ever stop to ask yourself, “Are you prepared?”
Enter, the Polar Vortex.
Now, I am a Chicagoan by birth, so cold weather is not new to me. And, in general, I handle the worst of Cincinnati’s weather pretty well. But I will admit that there have been a few really cold days this winter and it appears that some more is headed our way. When extreme weather hits, it has ripple effects that run through all aspects of our lives. In the past two months, around the country, we’ve read story after story of the effects of extreme cold, ice, and snow: cars stalled, traffic stopped for hours, huge highway pileups, water pipes bursting or freezing, electricity down, busses stranded, etc.
And how about the recent chemical leak in West Virginia? Did you hear about it? We were lucky to be a large municipality, far from the leak. But, still, the City of Cincinnati had to close off intake valves from the Ohio River and use stored, treated water for a day while the hazardous material floated past the city. What if you were one of the 300,000 people further up river who had no drinking water because of the crisis?
Now, consider hurricanes, floods, extreme heat, earthquakes, tornados. These are just the natural disasters.
What if you had no access to the public water system for 24 hours? 48 hours? 72 hours?
What if your heat went out? Or your electricity?
What if your city closed the roads for three days and the grocery stores couldn’t receive deliveries?
What if you couldn’t leave your home for a week?
Or what if you absolutely had to leave your home for a week?
What if you only had an hour to leave?
These are questions we don’t like to ask because they make us feel powerless and vulnerable. But we have to ask them because we are powerless and vulnerable. And, if we don’t ask them, then we stay powerless and vulnerable.
Part of dealing with my anxiety has been reconciling my powerlessness and relinquishing control over things I cannot control. The other part? Being reasonably prepared.
There are four phases of preparedness.
This is preparation for a sudden, local emergency like a power outage or public water loss. It also includes car emergencies like being stalled on the side of the road or being stranded away from home. A good estimate of time for supplies is 72-hours. Preparations include simple emergency kits for on-hand at work or school, and in vehicles. Basically, if you were stranded in your house or in your car or in your office for 1-3 days, what would you need to survive?
This is preparation for a few weeks of limited access to resources in times of civil unrest or after a disaster situation like a tornado. Preparations are usually as simple as keeping bulk supplies of what would normally be found in a functioning household, including water for drinking, cooking, and bathing. This would also include short-term evacuations.
This is where we get into the real “prepper” scenarios that make for tv-worthy entertainment. This goes beyond a few weeks’ worth of supplies and veers into months’ to years’ worth of stored food and sundry items, alternate sources of water and heat, and means of protection (i.e. firearms and ammo). This phase also considers long-term evacuation situations. Think: New Orleans, post-Katrina.
People who enter this phase of disaster preparedness are generally preparing for a complete collapse of society, lone-wolf survival, and living off-the-grid. Have you seen the show Revolution? Imagine yourself in that America.
As much as survivalism and emergency preparedness fascinate me, I have not ventured much past those first two phases of preparedness that I outlined above. I’m just not convinced that there is an urgent need. So, I’m definitely not suggesting my friends cash in their IRA, buy a dozen acres, and bury a bomb shelter for the apocalypse. But, there are simple, affordable ways to prepare for potential emergency situations and it surprises me how few of my friends (especially those with children) haven’t even considered doing it.
The American Red Cross has a pretty good list of resources and tools for emergency preparation. This is probably a good place to start if the concept is new to you or seems overwhelming.
Like I said, I don’t talk too much about emergency preparedness because the “Prepping” world is a bit of a freak show that I’d rather not associate myself with. But, I think I have a responsibility to protect and provide for myself and my family in an emergency situation. It’s not quite as simple as keeping a few extra batteries and boxes of cereal in the house, but it’s also not as difficult as you may think.
(I’m happy to post more online resources if anyone is interested.)