An ounce of prevention… will save you in the long run

It is timely, but unfortunate, that I write this following the destruction and great loss caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma across the Gulf Coast and Florida. There is never going to be a time where emergencies or disasters stop occurring, so the best course of action that anyone can take is to take steps ahead of time to prevent being caught up in the melee surrounding disasters.

Every time there is a disaster that hits the United States there seems to be a knee jerk reaction to prepare for the coming emergency in the last moments leading up to it. It seems like where I live, every time there is going to be a storm the store runs out of bread, eggs and milk instantly. Why people buy refrigerated items when there is concern that the power might go out is something that I’ll never understand but it demonstrates the panic mentality.

This is where being one of those “crazy” preparedness minded individuals becomes the smart thing to do. Being prepared ahead of time and not needing to react with panic saves the need to run into the chaos of the grocery store, get caught up in gridlock traffic, pay more than double retail prices for things and so on. Some of the inherent problems that can be potentially avoided/better dealt with by planning and preparation that are associated with natural disasters like Harvey and Irma include:

Complicated and lengthy evacuations

There is nothing fun about being forced to evacuate from home. Aside from the stress and anxiety of the situation, the routes to safety are often limited which leads to congestion, extremely lengthened travel times and greater potential for risky encounters with volatile individuals.

In addition to horrible traffic and long delays, the resources needed to evacuate can be great and not always available along the routes used for evacuation.

Price gouging

It seems that there are always stories of prices being jacked up as disasters approach or occur because of the supply and demand of basic necessities, cleaning supplies, bottled water, fuel, generators, etc. Some economists think that price gouging is actually a public service. Most of us are actually in agreement that this type of behavior is despicable, not a way to aid the public. Most states have laws that protect consumers from being victims of price gouging schemes but, like other laws, not everyone always adheres to them. This is especially true in situations where there is nowhere else to go to get what you need.

Loss of power

The power grid is susceptible to going out for a number of reasons but when heavy storms hit, these chances increase substantially. At some points, to almost near certainty and it can always be counted on to go out with large storms like hurricanes.

Depending on where you live will often affect how soon your power will be restored. The priority for government is to restore government services and after that, power will usually be restored in locations with the highest population density. Knowing this, having an alternate source of power can go a long way in making a post-disaster environment more comfortable.

Security threats

Looters — Business will always be susceptible to looters, especially if law enforcement is tied up with rescues and other higher priority matters.

Thieves — Homes that have been evacuated or those who look like an easy score will be subject to potential robbery. Once again, this risk increases when law enforcement are tied up with other matters.

Riots — It is disappointing when groups of individuals choose to cause chaos, especially in times that are already challenging because of disaster or other emergencies. That said, it still happens. This will increase the demand on law enforcement and, once again, the risk of looting and robbery will increase.

Vigilant communities and those who are well trained and equipped to take care of themselves can counter all of these threats. There will always be those who are looking to take advantage of opportunities and the weakness of others. Being prepared to deal with these threats is the only option, unless you would prefer to be a victim.

Secondary effects

There are many additional ways that major storms impact the way that we navigate life in the midst of, and following, a disaster. These effects come primarily from high winds and heavy rains.

  • Damaged buildings and infrastructure
  • Downed power lines
  • Downed trees
  • Flooding
  • Sinkholes
  • Washed out roads
  • Sanitation problems
  • Public health issues

These are but a few potential problems that can occur from the primary effects of storms and disasters and should all be considered as part of your planning.

Transportation issues      

The need to get around in areas affected by disasters can be complicated by impassable roads, flooding, areas that are restricted, etc. This may lead to a situation where alternative modes of transportation will be useful and therefore consideration should be made ahead of time to see what steps should be taken to see what is reasonable. If alternate transportation is not available, then go ahead and plan on staying on top of your roof or being kept from going certain places because of a lack of transportation.

Clean up challenges

In the wake of a disaster there is always a massive clean up effort that must be undertaken. What this means for individuals is that your needs, or the needs of your loved ones, will most likely not be a priority in any way shape or form. In the event that you are fortunate enough to get hold of a service provider that is willing to do your job for you (and not chasing the government dollars to clean up what the government wants cleaned up), it is likely that you will be a number on a long list of people that need help as well. Add to this the lengthy and prolonged process of trying to settle claims with insurance companies and things will be backed up far and wide.

This all comes after the absolute basics like clearing roads and restoring public order are (hopefully) achieved.

What can be done

There are plenty of reasons to take preventive measures so that you don’t find yourself in one of the situations above, but what can you do? One of the first steps that should be taken is to complete a survival skills inventory to assess your individual strengths and weaknesses or those of your group. On top of the skills inventory, have a clear understanding of what the bottom line, no joke, needs for survival are so that you not only have them, but that you have enough.

Evacuation

The primary way to avoid being caught up in a forced evacuation at the last minute is to leave ahead of time if you are in a situation to be able to do so. This can be facilitated by creating an income source that is independent of staying in one particular location and/or putting the financial resources away so that this is an affordable option if the need arises.

  1. Plan several routes to get out of your area in the event that one or more is not accessible. Consider using a P.A.C.E. place where you have a primary, alternate, contingency and emergency option available. This will provide at least four ways out of the area. Also consider having an atlas or maps in the vehicle in case GPS is not an option for navigating.
  2. Make a load plan and practice it to ensure that everything that you must have, and maybe even a few things you want to have, can fit in the vehicle and that it can be loaded in an expedient manner.
  3. Have your emergency necessities already packed in a bug out bag or other containers so that there is not a need to pack these items and waste valuable time.
  4. Include defensive security measures in your evacuation plan.
  5. If possible, carry additional resources like gas, oil, anti-freeze, tool kit, etc. that will allow you to get where you need to go without having to rely on supply sources along major evacuation routes.
  6. Plan at least two locations where you can go if you do need to evacuate. If these locations dictate that you must pay for lodging or other expenses ensure that you have cash on hand in the event that electronic payment options are down.

Price gouging

This is something that can be easy to avoid by obtaining the supplies needed to ride out a disaster ahead of time. Having all your basic needs met means that you won’t have to try to talk a shop owner into selling his last case of bottled water at a reasonable price. If you are lacking a must have item at a time like that, you will either have to relegate to paying exorbitant prices, figure out a way to go without or hope against all hopes that you find an honest (and well stocked) retailer.

A few examples of price gouging complaints that stemmed from Hurricane Harvey include hotels quadrupling their prices, gas up to $10 a gallon and $99 for a case of bottled water. This is not a situation that you want to find yourself in.

Power loss

To me, this ties into price gouging to an extent. If you have a generator already, you won’t be forced to try to buy one off the side of the road for more than twice what it is worth.

Beyond that aspect, there are measures to be taken to help deal with a loss of power in the event that it happens.

  1. Have an alternate source of energy (generator, solar, wind, etc.).
  2. Maintain working flashlights and have plenty of extra batteries for them.
  3. Have emergency refrigeration if there are medications that must be stored at cold temperatures.
  4. Ensure that food stores are plentiful and don’t require power to prepare.
  5. Have alternate methods of cooking available (grill, rocket stove, camp stove, etc.).
  6. Know how to circulate air using your windows to help cool things off or how to seal up a room to keep things warm.

If a generator is what you choose to have as an alternate power source, be familiar with the security risks associated with the loud noise of a generator and how to reduce them. A good supply of fuel, oil, filters, etc. will go a long way in keeping power available. Also, be familiar with how certain items draw more power than others from the generator and make a plan to minimize the draw on the generator. This saves fuel and provides more running hours. As an example, a fan is a better option than an air conditioner when using a generator.

Security threats

Understanding that there are many situations outside of disasters that dictate taking a moderate level of security measures as a common sense step, the potential for danger goes up even more during times of crisis when lowlifes and those acting out of desperation will make bold moves to profit and/or survive. This makes taking a few basic steps in the planning process ahead of time the prudent choice.

  1. Make a plan for maintaining accountability of your family/group during crisis.
  2. Have a communications plan in place to ensure that elements that are not together can still communicate.
  3. Utilize a “buddy team” approach to ensure that no single person is ever left vulnerable.
  4. Become comfortable with weapons and/or defensive measures ahead of time so that they are suitable options during a crisis.
  5. Obtain training on those weapons and/or defensive measures to ensure that they can be properly employed if needed.
  6. Don’t be a soft target. If there are security concerns, don’t walk around with a Rolex watch on your wrist. If you have to evacuate, don’t leave valuable items or stores of food in plain view in the house. Making it look like you have nothing to offer can be a viable defense in making sure that people pass you by if they are looting or desperate.
  7. If your state allows it, consider getting a concealed carry permit so that you can legally carry a pistol as a defensive option.

Secondary effects

First and foremost, don’t put your life at risk by climbing on, around, in or under buildings, infrastructure or other things that could potentially be unstable. It is not worth the risk and should be avoided if possible.

When dealing with downed power lines, trees and other obstacles that impede travel, it is great if you are able to notify authorities so that they can be aware of it but even if you do let them know, it is unlikely to be resolved in an expedient manner. Make note of the danger and then plan accordingly to circumnavigate the obstacle. If for some reason you do have the necessary resources to clear a path, and you feel compelled to do so, then by all means your help will be appreciated but don’t forget rule number one and never jeopardize your well-being for convenience.

Because disasters can often cause issues with sanitation and public health, have a plan to conduct sanitation and hygiene activities so that these are not concerns that you have to worry about. Drink bottled water. Clean with bleach. Contain your bathroom messes instead of just going in the floodwater. Wash your hands often. Never eat anything that is questionable and don’t eat with dirty hands.

Transportation issues

My recommendation when looking at alternate transportation would be to either find a friend or neighbor with resources who is willing to help you or secure an affordable means of secondary transportation yourself. In a situation where flooding and impassable roads are a challenge, an inflatable raft and a bicycle can go a long way in helping you get around. It may take a combination of several rafts to carry people, supplies and bicycles but this still can be much more affordable than purchasing a large enough boat to accomplish the same task.

If using inflatable rafts and bicycles, ensure that you have enough supplies to perform repairs to holes in rafts, flat bicycle tires, etc. These materials are not expensive and do not take up very much room. It would also be a good idea to invest in an effective pump to inflate rafts if that is the method which you choose.

Clean up challenges

Living on a property that has trees on it means that having a chainsaw may not be a bad idea. However, there is not going to be solutions that always involve a chainsaw. The ability to burn in a barrel can be useful in cleaning up. There are other measures that can be taken to ensure that your personal clean up is a success like having tools, fasteners and wood to make repairs or cover windows. These are all useful things and should be planned for accordingly and based on your individual situation.

Above and beyond the actual clean up effort, you will want your life restored to as normal as possible, as soon as possible. This means filing insurance claims and working with adjusters to complete this process. The best way to make this process as seamless and painless as possible is to have an accurate and complete record of the things that you own. This should include a written list with serial and model numbers for high-end items as well as a video or photo library of these items. The simple process of having a visual recording of these items as proof of ownership will makes things easier and faster. If you are able to retain receipts for the things you purchase it helps as well. Of course all of this is only good if you have the means to retain them. This should be in a small safe that is easily portable and can be taken with you if you have to evacuate.

There is no way that one list can compile every last possible step that should be taken to avoid/deal with disaster but hopefully we can learn from the disasters that do occur so that we can avoid suffering the same missteps that others had to experience in disasters before us. The bottom line is that, by spending the time to plan and taking the steps to prepare ahead of time, there will be much less stress, anxiety, and potential for heartbreak if you find yourself in a disaster in the future. Failure to learn from the mistakes is something that should not happen. However, every time a hurricane, power outage, tornado, earthquake, etc. occurs, we see the same mistakes being repeated over and over again. This, by definition, is insanity.

Don’t be insane! Prepare now and save yourself in the long run.

— Thomas Miller

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