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How to Plan for Disaster.

Updated on September 10, 2014

Philosophy of Preparedness

Emergency Preparedness is a difficult thing to comprehend. The Boy Scouts of America's motto is to be prepared, but one can't legitimately prepare for everything. One can legitimately prepare for most things though. The key to being prepared for emergencies is to ensure you properly plan for realistic contingencies, and these will change depending on the type of emergency you might experience. In this article first we will look at some basic skills that are necessary in all emergencies, then we will discuss how to think clearly during and about emergencies, then we will dive into the meat of preparing for specific emergencies.

The first step to survival and comfort in any emergency is to remain calm, and keep those around you calm as well. Emotion is contagious, sharing grief and joy are pillars of community; and in an extreme situation emotions are likewise liable to be extreme. The key to maintaining a calm and thinking community during an emergency situation is to stave off low emotion by direct and intent action. Give upset people something to do that they can feel useful about, and keep focusing on the things you and your community can change, or already have changed for the better. Action soothes frayed nerves and successful action creates positive energy.

The next step is disciplined behavior. You and your group should understand the rules for rationing, personal boundaries, and any other necessities of your situation. Some of these rules, such as personal boundaries, may shift depending on the situation; and because of this frank polite conversation may be necessary. But most rules, such as food rationing, consumption of energy or other limited resources, or the approach to providing aid or handling the interactions with outsiders or wildlife should be discussed beforehand. In an emergency situation you may be displaced in the wilderness, or people may be displaced in your area. With law enforcement and rescue coverage possibly disrupted your interactions with other people may be dangerous; the manner you and your group intends to manage these interactions should be discussed before the event occurs so that the entire group can confront the situation calmly and according to plan. Remember that most people will just be trying to stay alive.


Understanding and Providing for Physiological Needs

People are not going to be happy or content if they are not positive their need for food, water, and shelter will be adequately met. This makes it your job as your preparing for emergency to understand what people really need and to ensure that those needs are met.

On average, people need 3 liters of water a day, it shifts depending on the person, diet, and activity. Use 3 liters as a baseline, but ensure that you monitor the water intake needs of you and your group by knowing symptoms of dehydration and hydration. Dehydrated people often don't want to eat starchy foods because the starches clump up in a dry mouth and will sometimes cause people to complain of “cotton mouth”; additionally headaches and confusion can occur as well. Don't assume these symptoms point to dehydration, because they can also point to other issues, but making people drink more water is never a bad decision. Remember, headaches are always caused by something; consistent headaches point to a problem in physiology; don't just give people pain relievers and move on; a diet consisting mostly of sugars will lead to painful crashes and headaches, as will lack of sleep. In an emergency situation it is important that we deal with the source of the issue and not merely its symptom.

Assuming stable diet and exertion levels the easiest way to monitor hydration is to monitor color and quantity of urine. Most outdoorsy folks know the mantra clear and copious pee; but in an emergency situation you may need to ration water consumption. Clear urine means that your body is getting more water than it needs; in order to keep rationing sound and healthy its important that people focus on drinking enough to keep their urine from turning yellow. Clear, or cloudy pee that doesn't smell strongly is sufficient to keep someone healthy and hydrated. Having to pee regularly and having it always clear is a sign of over hydration.

The ability to maintain water levels is of paramount importance to the continued health of yourself and your group, as well as for its morale. Without water you will die, and being able to replenish water will work wonders for your groups comfort level. Water purification and filtration systems will allow you to catch buckets of water from gutters or rainfall to supplement any water you have stored. There are two things you have to address when purifying water: the physical sediment, and any chemical, viral, or micro bacterial threat. Unfortunately there’s not a lot we can do about chemicals, but a wet bandana or shirt can take a lot of the sediment out, leaving us to deal with the bacteria. There are many methods(including boiling the water for five minutes) that can help us with this. Probably the most effective is a product called the Steripen. It uses UV light to kill all bacteria in the water and is made in a crank powered version. Chlorine dioxide tablets are also handy and take up very little room, but take 4 hours to fully function. Its important to note that chlorine dioxide releases a vapor that needs to be vented during the reaction in order to protect your water vessel.

Diet is a little harder to manage than water; generally it involves stockpiles of shelf stable foods, or the ability to hunt and fish. Backpacker's pantry number ten cans can meet all of your stockpiled food needs and are shelf stable for 25 years. Use any shelf stable foods LAST. If it expires soon, consume. Your two most important food groups are proteins and starches. Protein makes it easier for your body to absorb other nutrients and starches give you consistent energy. Multivitamin supplements work wonders in prolonged emergencies; ensuring you and your group get the right mix of nutrients regardless of inconsistencies in diet.

This means you want to pack your diet full of meat, breads, and noodles. These things are hard to find in a shelf stable man portable form, freeze dried foods are the best way to go. You may find your able to scavenge a surprisingly high amount of protein without being a hunter, once you get hungry enough to stop being squeamish that is. You can usually catch park squirrels by hand or with some simple game traps and peanut butter; and likewise you can net fish in streams and large drainage ditches with little difficulty. Anyone can become an accomplished “jugger” by tieing milk jugs to the shore, and putting baited hooks or lured lines down into the water. Of course if you intend to rely on fish or animals, you had better learn how to field dress them. Its significantly easier than most of us think, and worst case scenario if you cook up the meaty looking bits you'll have something to eat, even if you don't get all the best parts.

Be sure to subscribe to me for more methods of resupplying on food and water in future articles!

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Understanding and Providing for Emotional Needs

Ok.....there's a disaster going on; that means everyone is focused on food water and shelter right? Well, probably. But these tasks are all so much easier to perform if their emotional needs are also met. Always remember the hierarchy of human needs; sustenance and shelter are the foundation, the need for sustenance and shelter must be fulfilled before higher order needs like sense of belonging and sense of accomplishment mean anything to the individual.

Happy people work better, and since you are developing the skills and resources necessary to provide for sustenance and shelter, your also in a position to ensure that higher order emotional needs are met. Of these needs the sense of belonging and accomplishment are the easiest to meet. If people have tasks to do that you know will lead towards success, then give those tasks out as soon as you can. Teach someone how to check, empty, and re-bait the traps for instance. If your traps or jugs are placed well then the person who makes this run is likely to return with food for the group, thereby making that person feel accomplished while simultaneously making the group bond. Thanking people for everything, seeing the value in each task is pivotal to keeping a group's morale high; likewise if your alone you should know to see value in what you do to avoid low morale in yourself. Anything that provides food, nourishment, or a smile to anyone is of value and deserves to be praised. Luxuries provided at key points can work wonders as well. When I have been the grub master for longer expeditions in the past I made certain that I had a sweet treat or a bag of wine stashed to surprise the group with after a few days out. I also regularly carry a portable speaker and MP3 player with a portable charger; out in the woods music can remind us of different times, and because of our situation those times are seen from a different perspective. If you can play a small instrument, like a harmonica, or if you come across one, try and find someone who can play it; or find a small MP3 speaker and a solar charger, and keep a wide variety of tunage on it.


How to prepare for specific emergencies.

As with all things, this comes down to thought, I will give you a structure here, my Emergency Preparedness Planning Pyramid, to help you think about how exactly you would prepare for a disaster in your area.

The pyramid is topped by the state of emergency, and as you move down the pyramid you should anticipate the possible emergencies in your area, and how best to prepare for them. By preparing realistically for the threats and failures you might find, you can steadily work your way through the pyramid until you are prepared for all realistic threats in your region.

Start your planning with the type of emergency your likely to face. Natural disasters vary with your region and may include threats like tornado, fire, hurricanes, earthquakes, or flooding. Unnatural disasters are more rare: building collapses, power plant emergencies like explosions or meltdowns, chemical threats in the air or water, things like that. Militant threats are even more rare and include political or military coups, invasion, armed protest or rebellion, and of course, zombies.

The next decision for planning involves whether or not you anticipate being displaced from your home, or base of operations. This will affect the manner in which you prepare; can you stay home and use the bulky water reclamation system on your roof, or will you need to make sure your purification system is man portable?

Next up in your planning is the duration of the emergency, short term is less than a month such as in infrastructure failures due to bad weather. Medium term is a month to a quarter such as in situations where there has been significant infrastructure damage such as after a hurricane, flood, or large fire. Long term is a month to a year, such as after armed conflicts when the reestablishment of the normal takes quiet a long time. Unforeseeable durations will generally only occur during armed conflicts or droughts, and indefinite emergencies cover things like nuclear war and asteroid strikes; unlikely, but statistically possible.

After the duration and type of disaster is planned for you then ready yourself for partial or complete failure of the whole host of utilities that we rely on day to day. As you plan and prepare for each utility to partially or fully fail based on realistic expectations and personal needs you can check it off the list at the base of the pyramid; when your foundation is complete you are completely prepared for the type of emergency you can foresee.

Of course this will be different, as the medical needs of an asthmatic or a diabetic are different than those of a baby or teenagers, but by planning and preparing you are greatly increasing your chances of both survival, and comfort. I hope you enjoyed reading, and if your interested in more information go ahead and follow me! I plan to release more in depth methods of finding and purifying water, getting and storing food in urban and suburban areas, and all sorts of other emergency preparedness and survival methods soon.


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