Five Little-Known Tips For Disaster Preparedness

The record-breaking cold in much of the U.S. reminds me that we’re all vulnerable to extreme weather and disasters, and need to be
prepared for them. Climate change means more of everything: drought, destructive hurricanes, heat, cold and floods. It’s broader than just global warming.

It’s our internal resources — our attitude and coping skills – that make us rich in what matters, in both good times and hard times. That’s a premise here at Diamond-Cut Life. This post is updated from a November 2012 post.

Common wisdom first: any household should have two week’s worth of food on hand. My household has buckets of freeze-dried food from Costco in the garage. But water is more crucial than food: we should have on hand at least one gallon per person per day. We need extra sleeping bags and blankets, and battery-powered radios for getting news. A working bicycle is smart to have, as New York City commuters found when Superstorm Sandy shut down the subways. Here is excellent detailed advice on being prepared to live without electricity. And here is a good toolkit and discussion guide on preparing with others for emergencies. (Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington referred me to that resource; thanks, Kathryn.)

The tips below are little-known wisdom on being prepared for extreme weather and disasters.

1.) Build relationships now with your neighbors. Our neighbors will likely be the most important people in our lives when extreme weather or disaster hits. That’s because emergency professionals will be overwhelmed, and cannot get to everybody in need. Are you in the habit of greeting your neighbors by name, and helping out with things like gathering mail and watering the garden when one of you is out of town? We are. Of course, some neighbors are much more responsive than others. I have a friend whose whole neighborhood in Newberg, Oregon, is well prepared for extreme weather and disasters. She, Leslie A., reports that she once hosted a wine-tasting and potluck dinner party during a power outage — by candlelight. Go, Leslie!

2.) Practice having flexible expectations. A key reason people fall apart under pressure is that they think things are supposed to go well for them. That expectation doesn’t correspond to reality: things will often go poorly, even if you’ve done nothing wrong. Activities like camping and climbing mountains (my favorite) can help us develop flexible expectations and internal strength. For example, we find that we can survive being cold/hot/fatigued, and not having access to our creature comforts, and not being as spick-and-span clean as we’d prefer to be.  (Hint: the one gallon of water per person per day doesn’t allow for any baths or showers.  I often take sponge baths, which only need enough water to moisten a washcloth.)

3.) Practice having a week per night of non-electrified entertainment.  Extreme weather often brings power outages, hence no electricity. Examples of do-it-yourself entertainment are singing and playing musical instruments. Conversation can be a fine way to pass an evening, including storytelling (did you know that movies are just an elaborate form of storytelling?). The idea that entertainment comes from things outside of ourselves is a modern invention. It’s a shared group opinion that we’ve forgotten is just a preference, not a requirement for living. For the 99.9% of human history prior to electricity being harnessed, humans had fun without computers, video games, etc. Playing cards is a time-honored way for small groups to self-entertain. Then there are books!!  But, not all books are created equal. Some affect us very positively, some neutrally and others negatively. In hard times, we need books that are uplifting and encouraging. Maybe leave Stephen King for a different time. Here are my favorite books; the Inspiring section is at the top. Brief moment of shameless self-promotion: my novel “Revelle” is a good read about a thirtysomething woman whose dreams steadily elude her, but she perseveres, regardless. Twenty-one reviews on Amazon give “Revelle” 4.2 stars out of 5. Just sayin’.

4.) Keep some sick days or vacation days stocked, if your job gives you these. Many workplaces shut down in times of disaster, and most employees don’t get paid for days they don’t work.  Your income will suffer unless you’ve saved sick or vacation days you can use. If you’re self-employed or otherwise don’t have this resource, you need cash reserves. Living below your means, i.e. spending less than you make each month and saving the difference, is the way to do this.

5.) Practice being calm when you are irritated or inconvenienced. Disasters and hard times present a non-stop series of irritations and inconvenience. Responding with anger will make it harder not just for you, but for everyone around you. People who can curb their fear and frustration will think more clearly, and act more competently, in crises than people who cannot control their emotions.  We have to manage our thoughts and emotions in crisis as surely as we have to manage our physical resources of food, water, candles and batteries.

Our internal resources — our attitude and coping skills –  are what make us rich in what matters, in both good times and hard times.  I’d love to hear from you: what has helped you succeed in dealing with extreme weather or disasters? Or, how have you observed others to succeed?

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  • Alison
    January 22, 2014

    Debra, I share your sadness. I think I write Diamond-Cut Life because I’m determined to find ways out of our culture’s sad and misguided aspects.

  • Debra Yearwood
    January 21, 2014

    Alison, while I think doing things like making friends with your neighbours is just good sense, it’s sad that we need to include it in a disaster management plan. Sadder still is that the plan is needed in part because we have not bothered to plan in so many other areas of our lives, like consumption.

  • Mike
    January 13, 2014

    This is an absolutely terrific post on such incredibly important topic, Alison! I grew up in the volunteer rescue service and was quickly enlightened at 18 years old. It frustrates me still to this day how many people don’t take it seriously and take for granted that: “So and so will help me out” or “I can go off to the store if I need to”, etc. Good read our friend! :)

    • Alison
      January 14, 2014

      Mike, how cool that you were part of a volunteer rescue team. I hugely respect people who do that. Like so many things about a diamond-cut life, being prepared for disasters has nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with being a plain old grown-up who steps up to what life needs from us. It’s a good path. Glad you liked this post.

  • Alison
    January 14, 2014

    Looks like Survival Ring dot org has linked back to this post — many thanks!