National Security

Preparing for Disasters – It’s Not Always About Zombies

“It is not about worrying that the Russians are going to do something out of the movie Red Dawn. It is looking at your location and evaluating your short-term survival needs.”

With the full damage of Irma finally being seen, I believe it is time that we speak about the zombie apocalypse. Not possible, you say? Ok, you are probably right. What about an alien invasion then? Who knows if they are already living among us. Still a bit farfetched? Well, we could always look to the ever-approaching rise and takeover of super artificial intelligent killer robots marching around gathering up the last few human survivors on a desolate waste of a planet.

Hopefully no one reading this so far has taken any of these end of days settings seriously. However, the topic I am going to speak of will quickly have me branded as a crazy apocalyptic nut job waiting for a giant EMP to take out the power grid of the entire United States. What is this topic? Prepping. More often than not, when one speaks of prepping, people think of some right-wing nut job living on one hundred acres of land in the mountains surrounded by land mines, machine gun pits, and an underground network where their family is home schooled on the proper utilization of atropine injectors (used against nerve agents) and inbreeding.

While there are those legitimate cases where people believe that the actual collapse of society is imminent, I am not taking such an extreme view. However, I was surprised at the reaction as Hurricane Irma began to infringe upon the coast of Florida. I couldn’t help but watch the news as they reported on the panic from residents of the state as they realized that they were in the crosshairs of a truly awe-inspiring natural event of unimaginable devastation. People were storming their local stores to buy up the last few bottles of water or snap up a generator. The same happened recently with Hurricane Harvey. In one case, a local Best Buy was selling cases of water for $43.

As a country, we have been lured into a completely ridiculous false sense of security. Not the security provided by our military or law enforcement. A security based upon the fact that we live in a country where, for the overwhelming majority, our basic needs are easily met. If you get thirsty, you simply go to your tap and get a drink (assuming that you don’t reach for the refrigerator and grab a carbonated drink of one sort or another).

If we get hot, we turn up our air conditioning. More importantly, when the days and nights turn deadly cold, we simply up the heat. If we get hungry, we get in our car and drive to the local fast food spot to grab a healthy 1500-calorie lunch meal. For the most part, the majority of Americans have never had to survive in an environment where we had to worry about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The bottom two tiers of this pyramid—physiological needs (food, water, sleep, shelter) and safety (security of self and family, resources, health, property, etc.)—are things that we just accept as the norm for our society. In fact, we have come so far in our nation that we spend the majority of our time worried about the other tiers (in order: love/belonging, esteem, self-actualization).

So what happens when that veil of security is destroyed by some natural or even manmade disaster? Let me speak to this from a personal experience of mine. I remember two years ago when my family was living in Elkview, West Virginia. It was a stormy night and my wife was driving home from a business trip. She called me in a state of high concern because of the downpour. She wanted me to run to the store and grab a couple of items because she was worried that the roads were going to wash out. Knowing that my wife had a tendency to overdramatize certain events, I begrudgingly obliged.

I drove the five miles to the store, grabbed several items, and came back home. She called me moments later, this time in a full-fledged panic as she described the flash floods coming off the mountains. I still had a hard time believing her descriptions, especially as she told me that entire trees were racing her down the mountain. It wasn’t until she passed by the store—which I had been at only minutes earlier—and told me that the only bridge leading into the parking lot had collapsed, stranding hundreds of people on the other side. Luckily, she made it home without further incident.

By the time morning broke, we found ourselves without power or water. Further, we discovered that our community had become an island. There was only one road through our community. One end was under four feet of water, and at the other, a bridge had washed away. It took three days for the water to recede enough for us to be able to drive out, and the devastation that we discovered cannot be properly described without seeing it firsthand.

That was the day we learned to prepare for the unknown, and that is what a prepper’s mindset is really about. It is not about worrying that the Russians are going to do something out of the movie Red Dawn. It is looking at your location and evaluating your short-term survival needs. It is also about applying the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principal.

People will likely look at you like you are one of the crazy people…until they are standing in line ready to spend a thousand dollars on a hundred-dollar generator

I am not advocating that people go out and purchase an emergency underground bunker, but if you do, I found a couple online that for around a million dollars come with a swimming pool (just something to consider). However, there are simple steps that in an emergency can mean the difference between life and death and are quite simple to put into place.

Does your family drink milk from plastic jugs? Why not wash them out and fill them with water? You can quickly and easily store enough water to survive for a week or two without having to purchase anything extra. When you go to the store, pick up some extra canned food and dry noodles or rice. Both are cheap and have a long shelf life.

Do you have a five-gallon gas can that you keep full, and do you try to keep your vehicles at least half full always? Leading up to or immediately after a disaster, food, water, and fuel are going to be scarce commodities. Worse yet, as the supply dwindles and demand increases, so does the likelihood of violence.

By being prepared ahead of time, you take yourself out of the situation. Do you have all of your important documents in a single location should you need to leave the area? One area that people often forget to plan for is their pets. Do you have enough food for those members of your family for a week? What about medicines? Do you keep enough to get by, and are they in an easily accessed location?

The military has two great colloquialisms for plans. One: no plan survives initial contact. Two: Murphy’s Law—anything that can go wrong will (and 99% of the time at the worst possible moment).

The list does not end there by any means. There is an infinite number of steps that you can take, depending on your needs and financial ability (going back to the million-dollar swimming pool shelter). People will likely look at you like you are one of the crazy people we mentioned at the beginning of this article—until they are standing in line ready to spend a thousand dollars on a hundred-dollar generator, that is.

More important than anything else, however, is to have a plan. The military has two great colloquialisms for plans. One: no plan survives initial contact. Two: Murphy’s Law—anything that can go wrong will (and 99% of the time at the worst possible moment). However, having a rehearsed plan allows you to anticipate Murphy and gives you the capacity to adjust instead of having to start from scratch.

Although I am not sure that he was the first to say it, Patton once noted that “a pint of sweat saves a gallon of blood.” The same can be said for those who prepare for disasters. Should the day ever come where you find yourself on your own after a hurricane, or trapped because of flash flooding, or even locked inside you home because of six feet of snow, those few actions you took getting ready for the unlikely will allow you to survive the inevitable.

Matthew Wadler

Matthew Wadler is a Senior OpsLens Contributor and U.S. Army veteran. Matt served in the Army for 20 years as both enlisted and officer before retiring. His service includes time as Military Police, Field Artillery, Adjutant General, and Recruiting. His deployments include Somalia and two tours to Afghanistan. His formal education includes a master’s degree in HR Management. He is a strong supporter of the constitution and advocate for the military and veteran communities. Follow Matthew on Twitter @MatthewWadler.

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