Small Space. Big Life.

The Prepared Mind

I didn’t think much about emergency preparedness until our town saw five significant wildfires in three years. And I didn’t think about emergency preparedness being applicable to me, personally, until we went out to dinner one night during one of the fires and almost couldn’t get back home (where our pets were) because they’d closed all the freeway exits leading to our neighborhood and issued evacuation warnings for us and evacuation orders for the surrounding neighborhood.

That brought it home in a tangible way. Nothing says “This is an emergency. You may need to evacuate without notice. Be prepared to leave your home immediately”  like a sheriff shouting it through his bullhorn at 4 a.m. while it snows ash on your front lawn and the hills above you are a curtain of flame.

We didn’t end up evacuating that time, but the experience made me think hard about what we would need to do to evacuate, and how we could better prepare ourselves for sudden emergencies. And, wouldn’t you know it, the next year we did get to evacuate, thanks to another very scary wildfire.

It’s paradise here, I tell you.

After that I started spending quite a bit of my time on the Internet seeking out sources of emergency preparedness information. (Insert comment about horses and barn doors here, I know. But given that we live in earthquake / tsunami / fire / mudslide / drought country, I figure the odds are pretty good that we’ll get another chance to try these ideas out). And you know what? There’s all sorts of crazy, but a lot of them can be found in this area of the Internet. The vast majority of the sites I visited talk about stocking up on a LOT of canned goods and water and then switch right over to battle tactics, guns and ammo. So much so that I started calling them the Tinfoil Hat Brigade.

Affectionately, of course. I’m not going to belittle people who are heavily armed.

But I kept going back, because in amongst all the conspiracy theories and information about how to camouflage your preparations so that your neighbors won’t know you’ve got a secret bunker of Spam under your house, there was quite a lot of useful stuff. And most of it falls under one, magic category of emergency preparedness:

The best preparation is knowledge.

For example:

It’s better to have taken a first-aid course and be able to competently and confidently give first aid than it is to have a huge medical kit and no idea of how to use it. If you understand the basics of first aid, you can fashion the tools you need from a wide variety of materials. But if you have no idea of what to do in the first place, you’re stuck.

This basic principle holds true for all sorts of emergency-preparedness things. In addition to basic first aid, useful emergency preparedness knowledge might include:

  • Multiple places you might go to evacuate.
  • A thorough geographic knowledge of your neighborhood, town, or region, in case your normal paths of travel are disrupted.
  • The location of local pay phones, in case the cell towers are down.
  • How to purify water and local sources of surface water.
  • Songs, games, and wordplay that can help keep you or others entertained.
  • Your neighbors’ needs and habits, so you can help them if necessary.
  • How to organize community work groups to accomplish tasks (the Japanese have done this tremendously well in the wake of the quake/tsunami/nuclear disaster they’ve faced).
  • How to cook safely over an open fire or camp stove.
  • How to build a makeshift shelter.
  • Sanitation without running water or working sewers.
  • Safe ways to keep warm / cool in extreme temperatures.

A lot of these things are the sort of things you might find in a Boy Scout or Girl Scout basic manual. All can be found, in-depth, on the Web (just make sure you have lots of heavy-duty tinfoil first and don’t say I didn’t warn you). All require only your brain and some time

I’ll write about our emergency preparedness kit and plans in another post. But for those of you also learning more about this topic, I think it’s worth remembering that nothing will be as helpful to you in an emergency as what’s in your head, and how you use it.

I think the Tinfoil Hat Brigade would agree.


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